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If you’re concerned that you have issues with anxiety, take a moment to breathe. Know that there’s nothing inherently wrong with you, and you’re not alone.
Almost everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in life, whether it’s from public speaking, test-taking or even driving in traffic. Feelings of anxiety are common in stressful situations, but they’re usually temporary and resolve quickly.
Anxiety disorders are different. You may have an anxiety disorder if feelings of intense fear or worry continue in situations that aren’t anxiety-inducing. If that sounds like you, again, don’t be alarmed. More than 40 million American adults face anxiety disorders, and they’re highly treatable conditions.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a group of related mental health conditions that have physical and emotional symptoms, the most notable of which is excessive fear and worry.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), is the manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions. The DSM-5 recognizes at least 10 unique anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and diagnostic criteria.
Some of the most common anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
If you have generalized anxiety disorder, for example, you may be experiencing a variety of physical and mental symptoms. Your anxiety and worry may be associated with three (or more) of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling easily fatigued
- Muscle tension
- Restlessness, or feeling on edge
- Sleeping difficulties
While each condition is a bit different, all anxiety disorders share one symptom: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.
Top 5 Signs It’s Time to Talk to Your Doctor About Anxiety
If you’re experiencing feelings of anxiety that won’t go away, talk with your doctor, especially if you identify with the following signs.
Your Anxiety Is Harming Your Physical Well-Being
Occasional anxious thoughts may cause more mental stress than physical symptoms. However, if you have an anxiety disorder, you will likely experience physical symptoms that sap your energy and interfere with your daily functioning. These signs could include sleeping troubles, unexplained muscle aches and digestive issues.
You Have Anxiety About More Than One Area of Your Life
In the DSM-5, generalized anxiety disorder is linked with excessive worry about multiple events or activities, including your career, school performance and interpersonal relationships. You might feel anxious about routine life circumstances, like job responsibilities, your health and your family’s finances, too.
Your Symptoms Persist for Six Months
Generalized anxiety disorder is chronic, typically. This anxiety disorder involves symptoms that occur more days than not for at least six months. If you only have occasional feelings of anxiety, there may be a different explanation.
Your Symptoms Significantly Interfere With Your Daily Life
One of the most important criteria in diagnosing anxiety disorders is the degree to which they impact your everyday life. The feelings of fear and worry involved in anxiety disorders can cause you to experience clinically significant distress, harming your social and occupational functioning.
You Don’t Use Medication or Have Any Diagnosed Medical Conditions
Sometimes, medication use (or drug abuse) or an underlying physical health condition is the reason why you have anxiety. If that’s the case, you won’t be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Instead, your medical professional will help you overcome the underlying illness that’s causing your anxiety. If you don’t consume prescription or illicit drugs, and you’ve never been diagnosed with a health condition, your symptoms may be linked to an anxiety disorder.
When to Talk With Your Doctor
Anxiety is linked to many medical conditions, so it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor about it. If you’re concerned about your feelings of anxiety, that’s reason enough to talk with your doctor — there’s no need to wait.
You don’t need to have all of the anxiety symptoms to speak up about them, and you shouldn’t wait until they worsen, or you develop new ones. Today is a great time to talk about anxiety with a medical professional who cares about your well-being. With both physical and mental health, prevention always benefits you.
The sooner you have an open and honest conversation about anxiety with a health care professional, the sooner you can feel better.
What Your Doctor Looks For
When you talk with your doctor, they’ll assess your physical health. The physical symptoms of anxiety can be easily confused with underlying medical conditions.
Your doctor may examine and interview you for some illnesses that often imitate, or trigger the onset of, anxiety disorders, like:
- Central nervous system damage
- Heart disease
- Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
- Infectious diseases
- Low blood sugar
- Substance use (either prescription or illicit drugs)
If your doctor determines that your anxiety isn’t linked to drug use or a physical medical condition, they can refer you to a mental health professional who can diagnose you appropriately.
What a Mental Health Professional Looks For
Your mental health professional can diagnose you by evaluating your symptoms on specific criteria in the DSM-5, including whether:
- You’ve experienced significant life changes recently
- You’ve had anxiety and worry for at least six months
- You’ve had trouble (or can’t) control your worries
- Your anxiety involves at least three of the most common symptoms of anxiety
- Your symptoms cause significant impairment in your everyday life
- Your symptoms are better explained by a different mental condition
Your mental health professional will work with you to uncover the root of your anxiety, make a diagnosis — whether it’s generalized anxiety disorder or another anxiety disorder — and find the best treatment for your unique symptoms.
Get Anxiety Treatment From Experts Who Care
Having feelings of anxiety or an anxiety disorder is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. You don’t have to go it alone, either. Anxiety is highly treatable, and it’s possible to manage it effectively and feel fulfilled.
At the AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute, we can offer you meaningful support from mental health professionals who want to help you feel whole, physically and mentally. Learn more about our our mental health care or reach out to us to get started.