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Anxiety Disorder Definition: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment


Anxiety disorder refers to a mental condition where someone experiences considerable sensations of anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a relatively permanent state of worry and nervousness, while fear refers to an emotion experienced in anticipation of a specific pain or danger. Studies have established that people with anxiety disorder are highly vulnerable to suffering physical conditions such as precariousness and a fast heart rate (Stahl & Moore, 2013).

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Anxiety disorder is often caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental elements. Some of the factors that are likely to predispose someone to anxiety disorder include poverty, low self-esteem, age, history of mental disorders within a family, as well as experiences of childhood abuse. According to medical experts, an anxiety disorder can occur along with other mental conditions such as personality disorder or substance abuse disorder. The onset of anxiety disorder is usually 15-35 years.

This means that anxiety disorder appears differently in young people compared to older ones depending on the causative factor. Reports indicate that 5-30% of the world’s population suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in life (Wells, 2013). Its prevalence rates are very high in Europe and America, especially among older adults because of their advanced age. For one to be diagnosed with this condition, certain symptoms are supposed to show for a period of not less than six months. This condition is treatable using techniques such as counseling, medications, and lifestyle changes, among others. Although worrying is a common occurrence in life, professional help should be sought if it happens to the point of interfering with one’s daily life for more than six months.

Types of Anxiety Disorders and their Symptoms at all Ages

Research has established that anxiety disorder is a conjugation of different conditions that relate to feelings of anxiety and fear (Stahl & Moore, 2013). Some of the common types of this condition include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety disorder, situational anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition where someone is always in fear whose source is unknown (Robichaud & Dugas, 2015).

Some of the notable symptoms include poor concentration, irritability, fatigue, and restlessness. Panic disorder refers to a condition where someone is randomly struck by overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety. Someone experiencing panic attacks often complains of chest pains, a feeling to choke, sweating, and irregular heartbeats (Wells, 2013).

Social anxiety disorder is a condition where someone is too conscious of him or herself to the point of avoiding social gatherings for fear of being judged or ridiculed. Some people have a general fear of being around crowds, while others have specific social fears like public speaking. People with social anxiety disorder exhibit symptoms such as blushing, trembling, sweaty palms, and trouble to speak (Simos & Hofmann, 2013). According to psychologists, people suffering from this condition are socially isolated, for they avoid going to social places because it is the source of their anxiety.

Agoraphobia refers to a morbid fear of open spaces and places where it is hard to find an escape route or help (Wells, 2013). This condition is closely linked with the panic disorder because it is necessitated by panic. One of the notable symptoms of agoraphobia is someone wanting to be close to a visible exit all the time. In addition, the condition also manifests its self through avoidance behavior where someone chooses not to do something for fear of being trapped in situations that triggered anxiety in the past. For example, someone who has ever been stuck in a lift may opt to always use the stairs rather than risk finding him or herself in a similar situation again. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition where someone experiences feelings of anxiety due to a traumatic experience such as rape, a natural disaster, child abuse, or bullying (Stahl & Moore, 2013).

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In some cases, the condition can develop when someone is exposed to various types of stressors for a considerable time. A good example is the case of soldiers on a combat mission. Some of the common symptoms of this condition include flashbacks, anger, depression, irregular sleeping patterns, avoidant behavior, and vigilant attentiveness. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and support from family (Simos & Hofmann, 2013).

Separation anxiety disorder is a condition where people develop feelings of anxiety after they have been separated from someone, something, or a place. This feeling is common in children, as it forms part of their development (Wells, 2013). However, experts argue that if the feeling is exhibited in an excessive way, then it should be classified as a disorder. In children, this condition can be treated through parents who undergo special training on effective ways of signaling a child about an inevitable separation.

Situational anxiety disorder involves feelings of anxiety triggered by a new situation or event in someone’s life. According to psychologists, situations that make one feel uncomfortable for whichever reason are the main causes of anxiety. Situational anxiety is a specific disorder because people are made uncomfortable by particular events (Simos & Hofmann, 2013).

For example, some people may develop feelings of anxiety through life-changing situations such as starting a family, a new job or entering college. On the other hand, people who become anxious around crowded areas may struggle to go to places such as movie theatres, sports stadiums, and churches. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition where people develop fascinations and compulsions that lead to social dysfunction.

People suffering from this condition often develop the urge to perform specific actions repeatedly (Wells, 2013). Psychologists argue that such people perform the rituals as a way of relieving anxiety. The anxiety is often triggered by some of the fears that someone has developed over time. For example, if someone always has a fear of being robbed, the chances are that he or she will check the door countless times in a night.

Causes of Anxiety Disorder in Children and Adults

Anxiety is caused by a number of factors. One of the major causative elements is medical conditions. Studies have established that this condition can be a side effect of an existing health condition that affects the normal functioning of the nervous system (Simos & Hofmann, 2013). One such condition is pheochromocytoma, which refers to a vascular tumor of the adrenal gland. This tumor secretes epinephrine, which results in sustained hypertension.

Research has also established that anxiety disorder can be caused by stress (Stahl & Moore, 2013). People that experience prolonged stressing periods such as chronic illnesses or lack of money is highly vulnerable to suffering anxiety disorder. Experts argue that the kind of anxiety exhibited by young people is different from that of adults because of the nature of stressors. For example, adolescents are commonly stressed by issues relating to body image and social interaction. On the other hand, older people are often troubled by issues relating to family and illnesses such as dementia.

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Drugs and substance abuse is also a major causative element of anxiety disorder. Through research, alcohol has been proven to cause anxiety among people (Pine, Rothbaum & Ressler, 2015). For example, there are people who tend to lose their calm when drunk, while addicts tremble a lot when they go for some time without consuming alcohol. For recovering alcoholics, feelings of anxiety and worry are mostly experienced during the withdrawal phase. Studies have also established that high consumers of caffeine often complain of experiencing panic attacks (Simos & Hofmann, 2013).

Cannabis is also another drug that causes people to experience panic attacks. Its effect on the body leaves one in a panic mode. Genetics is also classified as a cause of anxiety disorder. Children of people that have suffered from generalized anxiety disorder are highly vulnerable to any of the numerous types of an anxiety disorder (Wells, 2013).

A combination of genetic factors and an unfavorable environment predisposes someone to anxiety disorder from an early age. For example, people that experience child abuse or other forms of trauma often fall victim to this condition because their future will definitely be influenced by the past.

Many studies have been conducted to develop a clear understanding of the dangers of persistence anxiety. According to experts, anxiety should not be classified as a bad thing or a danger to human life. The rationale behind this argument is the fact that anxiety helps people in various situations, especially dangerous ones. This means that human beings have developed a unique adaptation with regard to managing feelings of anxiety. Studies have shown that people that exhibit low adaptability to anxiety have a higher risk of dying compared to those whose coping techniques are at a higher level (Robichaud & Dugas, 2015).

Treatment of Anxiety Disorder

There are three notable methods of treating anxiety disorder. The first one is lifestyle changes, which include engaging in exercise and making good dietary choices (Stahl & Moore, 2013). Both physical and mental exercises are very effective with regard to helping someone with anxiety disorder develop good adaptation. Good nutrition is very important in treating any health condition, and anxiety disorder is no exception. Depending on the causative factor, people with this condition should reduce their consumption of caffeine, alcohol, as well as stop smoking. According to experts, anxiety disorder patients should eat food with Omega 3, such as fish, because it is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids that help in reducing anxiety (Robichaud & Dugas, 2015).

A good diet coupled with regular exercise is very effective in managing anxiety disorder. A notable benefit of this strategy is that patients start having enough and uninterrupted sleep, which goes a long way in improving the adaptability levels within the body.

Anxiety disorder can also be treated through rehabilitation. The most recommended form of treatment for people suffering from this condition is cognitive behavioral therapy (Robichaud & Dugas, 2015). The aim of this technique of treatment is to help a patient to develop a new style of thinking, behavior, and the way one perceives various things. A therapist focuses a lot on igniting feelings of happiness within a patient and encouraging one to talk about things that could be causing any form of stress. According to psychologists, the continuous and profound contemplation on a series of issues with patients helps to open up their minds to accommodate varying viewpoints with regard to various misconceptions (Wells, 2013).

It is important to note that the causes of some of the fears that people have been out of misconceptions or personally created theories that cannot be proven. Therefore, therapy helps a patient to bridge the gap between reality and fiction. However, it is also important to note that some causative factors cannot be taken lightly whether a patient has already experienced them or not. For example, there are women who become anxious in dark places because they fear being raped. Although it does not mean that such women have experienced rape before, it is important to address such fears in a special way. Medications have also been widely used in treating anxiety disorders. Some of the commonly used medications include buspirone, pregabalin, diazepam, clonazepam, and quetiapine (Stahl & Moore, 2013).

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It is normal for people to worry about various things in life. However, there is a need for concern if the worrying is notably in excess to the point of interfering with one’s daily life for more than six months. Anxiety disorder is a common mental condition that affects many people across all age groups. It is mainly caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Although anxiety disorders can be incapacitating, proper treatment techniques can improve any notable worrying signs.

Some of the main symptoms that one should look out for are excessive worrying, feelings of agitation, restlessness, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, tense muscles, irregular sleeping patterns, panic attacks, avoidance behavior, and irrational fears. Treatment for an anxiety disorder should start as soon as one is diagnosed. Some of the most effective treatment techniques are medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Anxiety disorder is a condition that can be effectively managed as long as the diagnosis is made early, professional help is sought as soon as possible, and the patients receive the necessary support from family members.


Pine, D., Rothbaum, B.O., & Ressler, K. (2015). Anxiety disorders: Translational perspectives on diagnosis and treatment. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Robichaud, M., & Dugas, M.J. (2015). The generalized anxiety disorder workbook: A comprehensive CBT guide for coping with uncertainty, worry, and fear. San Francisco, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Simos, G., & Hofmann, S.G. (2013). CBT for anxiety disorders: A practitioner book. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Stahl, S.M., & Moore, B.A. (2013). Anxiety disorders: A guide for integrating psychopharmacology and psychotherapy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wells, A. (2013). Cognitive therapy of anxiety disorders: A practice manual and conceptual guide. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

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