What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety is a natural response to stress, a part of the body's "fight or flight" mechanism. In the face of perceived danger, the body undergoes changes like dilated pupils, heightened senses, an increased pulse, and a surge of adrenaline, allowing quick assessment and providing a burst of strength or speed for escape.

However, anxiety becomes problematic when the body enters this heightened state even without actual danger. Consistent experiences of disproportionate nervousness, fear, and worry may suggest a medical disorder. Individuals dealing with anxiety often struggle to control their emotional responses to triggering stimuli, making it challenging or even impossible.

What causes an Anxiety Disorder?

The origins of anxiety disorders are presently unclear, but they likely stem from a mix of factors, including genetics, environment, psychology, and development. The tendency for anxiety disorders to run in families implies that a blend of genetic predispositions and environmental pressures contributes to the manifestation of these disorders.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Various anxiety disorders exist, each with distinct symptoms. These common symptoms are shared among all anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and may exacerbate with the intake of stimulants like caffeine.

  • Rapid, repetitive, or intrusive thoughts
  • Unmanageable worry
  • Heightened irritability
  • Difficulty contentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • General restlessness
  • Overwhelming feelings of dread
  • Heart palpitations / "butterflies"

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves persistent and excessive worry that disrupts daily activities. This continual concern and tension may come with physical symptoms like restlessness, feeling on edge, easy fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, or difficulty sleeping. Frequently, the worries revolve around commonplace matters such as job responsibilities, family health, or minor tasks like chores, car repairs, or appointments.

Panic Disorder

The primary symptom of Panic Disorder is recurrent panic attacks, an overwhelming combination of physical and psychological distress. During these attacks, some or all of these symptoms can occur simultaneously.

  • Palpitations, pounding hart, or rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling / shaking
  • Shortness of breath or smothering sensations
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
  • Feeling of choking
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Sense of detachment
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia involves an intense and enduring fear of a particular object, situation, or activity that is typically not harmful. Individuals with specific phobias recognize that their fear is disproportionate, yet they struggle to overcome it. The distress caused by these fears can lead some individuals to extreme measures to avoid the objects of their fear. Examples include public speaking, fear of flying, or arachnophobia (fear of spiders).


Agoraphobia is characterized by the fear of being in situations where escape could be challenging or embarrassing, and assistance may not be readily available if panic symptoms occur. This fear is disproportionate to the actual circumstances, typically lasting for six months or more and causing functional impairments. Individuals with agoraphobia experience this fear in two or more of the following situations

  • Using public transportation
  • Being in open spaces
  • Being in enclosed spaces
  • Standing in line or in a crowd
  • Being outside the home alone

Social Anxiety Disorder

Individuals experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder feel substantial anxiety and unease about potential embarrassment, humiliation, rejection, or being negatively perceived in social interactions. Those affected often go to great lengths to avoid such situations or endure them with intense anxiety. Common examples include an extreme fear of public speaking, meeting new people, or eating/drinking in public. The resulting fear or anxiety significantly impacts daily functioning and persists for at least six months.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

An individual with separation anxiety disorder experiences an intense and excessive fear or anxiety when faced with separation from those they are emotionally attached to. This emotion surpasses what is deemed appropriate for their age, enduring for at least four weeks in children and six months in adults, causing functional impairments. Common manifestations include persistent worries about losing a close person, reluctance or refusal to go out or sleep away from home without that person, and nightmares related to separation. While physical symptoms of distress typically emerge in childhood, these symptoms can persist into adulthood.

Selective Mutism

Selective Mutism in children involves not speaking in specific social situations, like school, despite being vocal in other contexts. They may communicate using nonverbal means but might face challenges in social interactions, leading to academic issues and isolation. Typically starting before age 5, it may not be identified formally until school. While some children outgrow selective mutism, those with co-occurring social anxiety disorder may see the mutism subside while social anxiety symptoms persist.

Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders

Serene Mental Health Clinic is your source for diagnosing Anxiety Disorders.

A visit to your primary healthcare provider is the first step to diagnosing an Anxiety Disorder. While there are no specific lab tests or scans to diagnose Anxiety Disorders, your provider can conduct examinations and tests to eliminate physical conditions that might be contributing to the symptoms.

If your healthcare provider finds no signs of physical illness, you should schedule an evaluation at Serene Medical Health Clinic. Utilizing specially crafted interview and assessment tools, we aim to determine the presence of an anxiety disorder by evaluating

  • Your reported symptoms, considering their intensity and duration
  • A discussion on how the symptoms impact your daily life
  • Observation of your attitude and behavior

Treating Anxiety Disorders

Serene Mental Health Clinic is your source for prescribing treatment for Anxiety Disorders.

The primary treatments for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy and medications. Often, a combination of both proves most beneficial. Identifying the most effective treatment for you may involve adjustments over time.

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, entails collaborating with a therapist to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a brief and impactful form of psychotherapy, focuses on imparting skills to improve symptoms and gradually reintroduce avoided activities. It includes exposure therapy, gradually facing anxiety triggers to build confidence in managing situations and symptoms.

Various medications are employed to alleviate symptoms, tailored to the specific anxiety disorder and potential coexisting mental or physical health conditions. Examples include prescriptions specifically tailored to treat anxiety, certain antidepressants with effectiveness in treating anxiety disorders, or short-term use of sedatives or beta blockers.