Mental health

Anxiety 101

What is anxiety? 

We all experience anxiety. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause. 

What are the different types of anxiety disorders? 

There are many types of anxiety disorders, each with different symptoms. The most common types of anxiety disorders include: 

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) 
    GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This worrying can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish daily tasks.  
  • Social Anxiety Disorder 
    More than shyness, this disorder causes intense fear about social interaction, often driven by irrational worries about humiliation.  
  • Panic Disorder 
    This disorder is characterized by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. 
  • Phobias 
    For someone with a phobia, certain places, events or objects create powerful reactions of strong, irrational fear.  

What are the symptoms of anxiety?  

All anxiety disorders have their own unique symptoms. However, they all have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. 

People typically experience one or more of the following symptoms: 

Emotional symptoms: 

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread 
  • Feeling tense or jumpy 
  • Restlessness or irritability 
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath 
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches 
  • Headaches, fatigue and insomnia 
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea 

What Causes Anxiety?  

Scientists believe that many factors combine to cause anxiety disorders: 

  • Genetics: Studies support the evidence that anxiety disorders “run in families,” as some families have a higher-than-average amount of anxiety disorders among relatives. 
  • Environment: A stressful or traumatic event such as abuse, death of a loved one, violence or prolonged illness is often linked to the development of an anxiety disorder. 


A doctor will likely perform an evaluation, an interview and lab tests. After ruling out an underlying physical illness, a doctor may refer a person to a mental health professional for evaluation. 

A mental health professional will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to identify the specific type of anxiety disorder causing symptoms as well as any other possible disorders that may be involved. Tackling all disorders through comprehensive treatment is the best recovery strategy. 


Different anxiety disorders have their own distinct sets of symptoms. This means that each type of anxiety disorder also has its own treatment plan.  

These are the common types of treatment that are used: 

  • Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy 
  • Medications, including antianxiety medications and antidepressants 
  • Complementary health approaches, including stress and relaxation techniques 

The NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) can provide information on how to find various mental health professionals and resources in your area.  

Remember that you are not alone. For more resources and to learn more about anxiety, visit