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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s physical response to a threat or perceived threat. It causes a pounding heart, rapid breathing, butterflies in the stomach and a burst of energy as well as mental responses such as excessive fears, worries or obsessive thinking.

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. It helps us to avoid danger by giving us energy and alertness to escape. But for some people, anxious feelings don’t go away. They can see situations as much worse than they really are, and their anxiety affects their ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks. These feelings can be caused by anxiety disorders.

Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).

These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.

Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.

The common types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: Excessive, uncontrollable worry about a range of ordinary issues such as health, work or finances. Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.

  • Social phobia or social anxiety disorder: A disorder that causes people to avoid social or performance situations for fear of being embarrassed or rejected. Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.

  • Panic disorder: Regular panic attacks, which are sudden intense episodes of irrational fear, shortness of breath, dizziness and other physical symptoms. Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they've occurred.

  • Agoraphobia: Avoiding certain situations due to fear of having a panic attack (agoraphobia is often associated with panic disorder).

  • Specific phobias: Irrational fears that only apply to one particular situation, such as a fear of animals, insects, places or people. For example, claustrophobia is a specific fear of enclosed or confined spaces. Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you're exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Unwanted thoughts and impulses (obsessions), causing repetitive, routine behaviors (compulsions) as a way of coping with anxiety.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): When feelings of fear or avoidance do not fade after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic life event. It involves upsetting memories, flashbacks, nightmares and difficulties sleeping.

  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.

  • Selective mutism is a consistent failure of children to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work and social functioning.

  • Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that's excessive for the child's developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.

  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.

  • Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are terms for anxiety or phobias that don't meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.


What causes anxiety :

The causes of anxiety and the reason anxiety affect some people to the point where it interferes with their lives are not fully understood. A range of factors are thought to contribute to anxiety symptoms, which can then go on to become disorders. Most anxious people probably have genes that make them more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. Women are more likely to develop anxiety than men, but it is not clear why.

The risk factors for anxiety include:

  • family history — you are more likely to develop anxiety if you have a family history of anxiety or other mental health issues (though it doesn't mean if there are mental health issues in your family you will develop anxiety)

  • having another mental health issue

  • ongoing stressful situations, such as job issues or changes, unstable accommodation, family or relationship breakdown and grief

  • any kind of abuse (such as physical, sexual, verbal or domestic abuse)

  • life-threatening events

  • pregnancy and childbirth

  • physical health issues such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or hormonal issues, such as thyroid problems

  • substance use — particularly cannabis, amphetamines, alcohol and sedatives — or withdrawing from drugs and alcohol

  • consuming caffeine, as well as some non-prescription and herbal medicines

  • having a certain personality type, such as being a perfectionist, having low self-esteem or needing to be in control

Everyone is different and often a combination of factors contributes to developing an anxiety disorder.

Medical causes

For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue. In some cases, anxiety signs and symptoms are the first indicators of a medical illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety may have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for signs of a problem.

Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism

  • Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma

  • Drug misuse or withdrawal

  • Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications

  • Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome

  • Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones

Risk factors

These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.

  • Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.

  • Stress. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.

  • Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.

  • Mental Health Disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.

  • Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.

  • Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.



Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders

  • Substance misuse

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

  • Digestive or bowel problems

  • Headaches and chronic pain

  • Social isolation

  • Problems functioning at school or work

  • Poor quality of life

  • Suicide



There's no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you're anxious:

  • Get help early. Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be harder to treat if you wait.

  • Stay active. Participate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Enjoy social interaction and caring relationships, which can lessen your worries.

  • Avoid alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you're addicted to any of these substances, quitting can make you anxious. If you can't quit on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help you.

 To know more or discuss your issues with our Doctor 

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