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Understanding Anxiety Disorder

Man sitting on couch looking sad listening to therapist in room

When you have anxiety, you may know your fears or worries aren’t rational, but you still can’t control them. People with anxiety feel overwhelming feelings like worry, stress, or fear that affect their ability to live their lives. By better understanding anxiety disorder, you can make sense of how your brain responds to stressors and what options exist for getting the help you need and deserve.

What is the Difference Between Anxiety and an Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone experiences anxiety. You have a big job interview, so you can’t sleep the night before because you’re worried about what will happen. Or your child is about to choose which college to attend, and you’re concerned that they’re making such a big decision about their future. These worries are part of regular life and are typically fleeting.

When that anxiety becomes persistent, overwhelming, and out-of-line with the situation, it becomes a concern. 

“The key with an anxiety disorder is that the feelings don’t match the situation,” said Mark Blakeley, LAC, CSAT, Clinical Resource Advisor at Integrative Life Center. “For example, worry about a job interview is so intense that the person is vomiting and feels unable to leave the house at all.” 

People with anxiety disorders frequently experience intense and excessive worry, stress, or fear about everyday situations. These fears can peak within minutes and cause a physical attack that feels like a heart attack.

By taking the time to understand the various types of anxiety disorders and how to spot the symptoms, you can see how anxiety manifests itself.

“Anxiety comes in various shapes and sizes, but all of its symptoms can be treated or controlled with the right mental health support,” Mark said.

6 Common Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder people experience, but not all anxiety disorders are the same. There are six common types of anxiety disorders. These disorders can affect your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. 

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common of all anxiety disorders. GAD is when a person has common or uncontrollable worries about many things. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control, and affects how you feel physically. GAD often occurs alongside other anxiety disorders or mental health concerns such as depression. Because there are many possible anxiety symptoms, the problems you experience with GAD might differ from another person’s experiences.

2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is when anxiety causes a person to have repetitive thoughts, behaviors, or urges. A person with OCD has no choice but to repeat the behaviors in an attempt to calm their anxiety. People with OCD may do things like count steps as they take them or double-check to ensure doors and windows are locked.

3. Panic Disorder

Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear that reach a peak within minutes. A person having a panic attack may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering, or pounding heart. These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred. They can cause you to fear embarrassment if witnessed in public, increasing your anxiety in a seemingly never-ending cycle. 

4. Phobias 

Everyone is afraid of some things, but when the fear becomes debilitating, it’s probably time to seek help. Phobias are extreme fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation, like fear of large bodies of water or objects like snakes or germs. Phobias can provoke panic attacks in some people.

5. Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by excessive anxiety for the child’s developmental level related to separation from parents or others with parental roles. It can bleed into adult life by causing anxiety when you have to leave a loved one behind, even to run errands or work. It can seep into your parenting approach, causing you to hover or overprotect in fear of losing your child. 

6. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder means you experience extreme fear or anxiety triggered by social situations, such as parties, workplaces, or everyday situations where you have to talk to another person. It is also known as social phobia. 

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders 

Anxiety disorders can affect people differently, even those with the same disorder. Here are some common signs of anxiety disorders to look for. If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, it may be time to contact a mental health professional.

“While there are sets of symptoms that are common to specific anxiety disorders, people respond differently to stressors,” Mark said. “That means even people with the same disorders can have different sets of symptoms or varying symptoms at certain times.”

Anxiety symptoms fall into three general categories: cognitive, behavioral, and physiological. 


Cognitive symptoms of anxiety are the thoughts or beliefs that come along with the disorders. 

Cognitive symptoms include:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Racing thoughts that are out of your control
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Negative self-talk
  • Depressed mood
  • Catastrophizing or always thinking about the worst-case scenario or expecting the worst possible outcome
  • Perfectionism and feelings of inadequacy


Behavioral symptoms of anxiety disorders are actions or behaviors that result from the mental health issue.

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Avoidance of certain situations or activities
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Compulsive or repetitive behaviors
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Withdraw or isolation
  • Substance use


Anxiety puts your system in fight or flight mode. This state of alertness may be difficult for you to come down from following a stressor. As a result, anxiety can have various symptoms related to the brain, muscles, and central nervous systems. 

Some physiological effects of anxiety include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Changes in appetite
  • Gastrointestinal concerns
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Increased sensitivity to light or sound

“Regardless of the symptoms you have, they can be treated or controlled to allow you to live a productive life,” Mark explained. “You don’t have to try to deal with anxiety symptoms alone or cope without help.”

Understanding Panic and Anxiety Attacks

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks share many of the same symptoms, but they are not the same thing. 

A panic attack happens suddenly and involves intense, overwhelming fear. It also includes physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, nausea, or shortness of breath. 

Anxiety attacks are less intense. An anxiety attack involves distress, worry, and fear and typically happens when you anticipate an event, experience, or stressful situation. People experience anxiety attacks differently, depending on their concerns.

You can have both panic and anxiety attacks as a result of an anxiety disorder.

What Causes Anxiety Attacks?

The causes of an anxiety attack aren’t the same for everyone. Different anxiety disorders cause varying symptoms, and there’s no one reason a person might feel triggered into an anxiety attack. However, some factors are likely to cause anxiety attacks in those prone to them.

Common causes of anxiety attacks include:

  • Physical health issues
  • Medications side effects or substance use
  • Stress at work, school, in relationships, or with finances
  • Caffeine
  • Negative thinking
  • Specific situations or events
  • Unpredictable or uncertain world events
  • Emotional trauma, such as the death of a loved one
  • Conflict

Self-Care Methods to Ease Anxiety

If you can identify and understand the causes of your anxiety, it can help you cope and perhaps prevent anxiety or panic attacks. A mental health professional can help you learn coping strategies to handle certain situations when they happen. You’ll also feel more confident in your ability to handle adverse situations when you have more tools to work with.

Some coping strategies for anxiety include:

  • Engage with Others. Spending time with loved ones can help you feel supported and distracted from anxious thoughts or behaviors.
  • Active Relaxation. Practicing deep breathing exercises like meditation can help reduce anxiety and calm your mind.
  • Exercise. Physical activity releases chemicals in the brain that reduce anxiety and improve mood.
  • Limit Caffeine and Alcohol. Both substances can worsen anxiety symptoms, so it’s best to avoid them.
  • Sleep Well. Getting enough sleep (six to eight hours a night) can help you feel more emotionally resilient and lessen the feeling of anxiety.
  • Eat Well. Maintaining a healthy diet can help you feel better physically and emotionally.
  • Journaling. Keep track of when you notice your anxiety. What do you think brought it about? Does your response to the situation fit? How could you respond differently in the future? 
  • Therapy. Talking with a mental health professional can help you recognize what triggers your anxiety and learn ways to cope with those triggers. 
  • Exploring Your Past. Childhood trauma can be the root of many mental health issues, including anxiety. Taking a step back and looking at the whole picture of your life with a mental health professional can help you heal.

“There are so many things you can do in addition to therapy to help reduce feelings of anxiety,” Mark said. “Therapy also can help you identify what hobbies or behaviors might lessen your anxiety symptoms.”

Diagnosing and Treating Anxiety Disorder

Talk therapies and psychological counseling are the most common treatments for anxiety. They involve working with a trained mental health professional to determine why you feel the way you do and what triggers these feelings. You’ll then learn to reframe your thoughts and behaviors and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Therapies for anxiety include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. CBT helps you get to the root of self-sabotaging beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors and replace them with healthier ones.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. DBT focuses on emotions. It helps you understand, accept, and manage difficult feelings and accept who you are.
  • Exposure Therapy. This therapy type focuses on dealing with anxiety-triggering objects or situations. By “facing your fears,” you may gradually become desensitized to them or neutralize them.
  • Social Skills Training. This behavioral therapy improves social skills in those with social anxiety.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR focuses on altering the emotions, thoughts, and responses resulting from traumatic experiences.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a new, non-pharmacological treatment that can treat anxiety and depression. TMS uses magnetic pulses delivered to the left prefrontal lobe of the brain. These pulses stimulate the neurotransmitters, which are believed to be imbalanced in the brain of those with mood disorders. Stimulating the neurotransmitters retrains the brain and brings your mood back into balance.

“There are various evidence-based treatments that are proven to help reduce anxiety symptoms,” Mark stated. “The right treatment for you may not be listed above, but it does exist. Working with a mental health professional will allow them to customize a treatment that best suits your needs.”

Anxiety Treatment Programs

Just like everyone’s anxiety is slightly different, anxiety treatment looks different for everyone. The recommended level of treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms and your personal needs.

Anxiety treatment program options include:

  • Hospitalization. Hospitalization only occurs in the most extreme of anxiety cases. Hospital care happens if you are in danger of harming yourself or others. It allows doctors to monitor you closely. 
  • Residential. Residential care lets you live in a safe and monitored environment while undergoing a full-time treatment plan.
  • Outpatient. A part-time treatment plan that allows you to continue living independently while attending regular therapy and counseling sessions.
  • Counseling Services. Therapy sessions and help groups for ongoing support. The provider determines your level of treatment based on your symptoms. 

Helping Someone with Anxiety

If you have a loved one who displays signs of anxiety, you’ll probably feel drawn to help them. It’s essential to understand that you can’t cure someone else’s anxiety. You also can’t force them to recognize that they’re having anxiety or to seek help. So, what can you do?

To help someone with anxiety:

  • Show Support. Tell them why you think they may be experiencing anxiety and that you’re there to listen and help them if you can.
  • Express Specific Concerns. Let them know exactly what behaviors you’ve seen that are concerning. Be sure to tell them why you think these behaviors are anxious without making them feel attacked. Remember that they can’t control anxiety or how it manifests.
  • Validate Their Feelings. If they start opening up to you about their feelings, be sure to recognize that it’s a big deal to be open and trusting. Acknowledge their feelings and thank them for trusting you enough to share.
  • Ask How You Can Help. Ask your loved one how you can help with their anxiety. Is there anything you can do (or not) to help them feel better? It’s possible that they might need someone to talk to or someone just to be there with them.
  • Make Suggestions. Do your research ahead of time and make suggestions for talking with a specific counselor or getting certain treatment. Remember that you can’t force this help, but you can offer it.

Get Help at Integrative Life Center

Anxiety can negatively affect every aspect of your life, but it’s treatable. You don’t have to live with the symptoms of anxiety. Integrative Life Center offers individualized anxiety treatment to heal. Contact us today to learn more.

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