Is It Stress—or an Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone feels stress, but left unattended, it could develop into an anxiety disorder that requires treatment.

anxiety disorder

As our stress levels rise, we may begin feeling as if we're experiencing an anxiety disorder.

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Sweaty palms, fast heartbeat, a pit in your stomach…. we’ve all been there. Feeling anxious is a normal response to the many stressful situations in life. But some people tend toward these physical reactions and catastrophic thinking more frequently than others, making negativity their go-to emotional reaction to any challenging situation. It could amount to an anxiety disorder.

Wondering where you stand? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I constantly worried about trivial matters?
  • Do I avoid social situations for fear of being embarrassed?
  • Am I frequently fearful about the future?

If you find yourself having frequent physical reactions and/or doom-and-gloom thinking that makes you so preoccupied that you can’t focus, you might have an anxiety disorder.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

An anxiety disorder is actually an umbrella term for a variety conditions, including:

What causes these disorders? A legacy of childhood trauma, family-inherited traits, divorce, financial ruin, or a flood of cortisol are a few of the many reasons why an anxiety disorder can occur.

All combined, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders. The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 20 percent of Americans may have an anxiety disorder. Compared to men, women are 60 percent more likely experience an anxiety disorder. (See also this National Mental Health Institute web page.)

What You Can Do

There some calming exercises you can try on your own when you feel anxious. For example, deep breathing can be extremely helpful. When you feel stress rising, pause and take a few deep breaths. Breathe slowly for at least five counts and exhale slowly for at least five counts. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes.

Regular exercise can also help abate stress. Taking a walk around the block, going to the gym, or just jumping up and down in your living room can help take the edge off the situation. Also, make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep. For most people, that means eight hours of uninterrupted shuteye.

Get Professional Help

While medications are sometimes prescribed, typically, physicians will also refer you to a behavioral therapist. These mental health experts help patients challenge and reframe their negative thinking.

Sessions can be held one-on-one or in groups, where it’s useful to hear from others who struggle with the same kind of challenges. Often, just a few sessions of behavioral therapy can make a real difference. But like most things in life, you have to practice the skills you learn.

Take a Look at Your Medicines and Supplements

It’s possible that medications and supplements may be making you anxious. Weight-loss drugs, thyroid medications, pseudoephedrine (a decongestant), high doses of vitamin B, and energy drinks can spike heart rate and make people feel anxious. In addition, nicotine and caffeine can cause a jittery feeling.

Though women tend to experience anxiety disorder more than men, it could just be more easily hidden in a culture that values the notion of “picking yourself up by bootstraps.” Likewise, people might just say “think positive!” Don’t let those cultural forces dissuade you from seeking help. It’s just not that easy to dismiss negative thinking and panicky reactions if you have an anxiety disorder.

For further reading on anxiety and anxiety disorders, see the following University Health News posts:

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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JoAnn Milivojevic

JoAnn Milivojevic became the executive editor of UCLA Health’s Healthy Years in 2015 and has written numerous articles featuring some of the most preeminent and passionate scientists, researchers, physicians, and … Read More

View all posts by JoAnn Milivojevic

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