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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is when you’re worried or scared about something. Everyone has anxiety every once in a while, like before an important event or when dealing with a stressful experience. But if you have an anxiety disorder, it goes beyond the typical level of fear that’s normal for most people and situations. You worry so much that it feels overwhelming and impacts your daily life. Your anxiety symptoms may lead to problems with your relationships, work, school, or social activities.

Anxiety is common, and there are several types of anxiety disorders.

What are the different types of anxiety?

Different kinds of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (also called GAD), panic disorder, and phobia disorders (including social anxiety).

What are some anxiety symptoms?

Different types of anxiety disorders can have different symptoms, and signs of anxiety can vary from person to person.

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worry a lot on most days for at least 6 months about basic life experiences, including work or school, health, family, relationships, and social interactions. The anxiety can cause problems in your everyday life and make you feel irritable, tired, tense, restless, or on edge. You may also have a hard time sleeping or concentrating on daily tasks.

People with panic disorder get recurring panic attacks (also called anxiety attacks) — episodes of extreme fear and anxiety. Symptoms of panic attacks include shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, and feeling out of control or like something terrible is about to happen. Panic attacks happen suddenly, and can be triggered by being in a certain situation or seeing something that you’re afraid of. When you have a panic disorder, your fear of future panic attacks may lead you to avoid things that may trigger a panic attack, which could potentially cause problems in your ability to live your day to day life.

People with phobia disorders have an intense fear or dislike of certain things or situations — and this fear is extreme compared to the amount of danger they’re actually in. They may worry a lot about having to face the object or situation they’re afraid of, make a huge effort to avoid it, or suffer through intense anxiety when they do have to face their feared object or situation. Some common phobias include heights, flying, certain animals or insects, blood or other bodily fluids, and needles. Agoraphobia is another disorder where people have an intense fear of things like being in a crowd, in open or closed spaces, or anywhere outside of their home.

People with social anxiety disorder get very anxious in social situations, like at work or school, with friends, or when having to perform or speak in public. They may worry that people will notice their anxiety and may be afraid of being judged and embarrassed, which may lead them to avoid social situations.

What causes anxiety?

Nobody knows exactly what causes anxiety disorders, but they can happen to anyone. It’s likely that lots of factors — like your family history, brain chemistry, and the environment you live in — cause anxiety disorders. Traumatic experiences like sexual assault, violence towards you or in your community, and serving in military combat can also lead to anxiety disorders.

What should I do if I have anxiety?

Anxiety is treatable. Talk with a nurse, doctor or mental health professional for help managing your anxiety. Some Planned Parenthood health centers may be able to help you figure out if you have anxiety and provide anxiety treatment. If not, they may be able to connect you to somewhere that can help you. You can also find help in your area at SAMHSA.

How is anxiety treated?

Treatment options for anxiety include talk therapy and medicine. Working with a trained therapist or counselor can be very helpful for treating anxiety. Therapy can help you figure out why you have anxiety, what triggers your anxiety, and help you build skills for dealing with anxiety in healthy ways.

Anti-anxiety medications are drugs that help reduce anxiety symptoms. These drugs can’t cure anxiety, but they can help manage the symptoms of your anxiety. You need a prescription from a nurse or doctor to get anti-anxiety medicines. It’s possible to build up a tolerance to certain anti-anxiety medications and you can even become dependent on them, so it’s important to take them the way your nurse or doctor tells you to for anxiety relief. Your nurse or doctor may also prescribe you antidepressants to help manage your anxiety.

If you’re taking medicine for anxiety and you’re pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding, talk with your nurse or doctor. They can let you know if these medicines are safe to take during your pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

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