Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time as a result of a situation that we perceive as threatening, such as having to do an oral presentation, having a near-miss with a car, or waiting for the results of a lab test.
Some level of anxiety can even be helpful. Anxiety can help people deal with a threatening situation, study harder for an exam, and perform better in sports. Anxiety is not necessarily harmful and usually only lasts a short period of time.
But when anxiety becomes persistent and interferes with the ability to cope and disrupts daily life, the person may have an anxiety disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders. They include:
- panic attack or panic disorder (sudden anxiety that occurs without warning) with or without agoraphobia (avoiding specific situations, such as public places or places where crowds gather, from which they can't easily escape)
- specific phobias (many types of intense fear reactions of specific objects or situations, such as fear of spiders, flying, or heights)
- social anxiety or social phobia (fear of being embarrassed in social situations)
- generalized anxiety disorder (general feeling of anxiety most of the time)
Anxiety disorders often occur together with other medical conditions, such as depression, eating disorders, or substance use problems.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental disorders. About 1 out of every 4 adults has an anxiety disorder sometime in their life and about 1 out of every 10 people currently has an anxiety disorder. They are more common in women and can affect children and adults.
Many people misunderstand these disorders and think they can get over them on their own (i.e., without treatment). This is usually not the case. Fortunately, there are many treatments available today to help.