Mental Illness: Facts about Anxiety Disorders

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Facts about Anxiety Disorders

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults in a given year. They include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. Unlike the mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event, anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated.

Effective therapies for anxiety disorders are available, and research is uncovering new treatments that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, you should seek information and treatment right away.

  • About half of adults with an anxiety disorder had symptoms of some type of psychiatric illness by age 15, a new study shows.
  • Anxiety disorders are frequently complicated by depression, eating disorders, or substance abuse.
  • Many people have more than one anxiety disorder.


In general, anxiety disorders are treated with medication, specific types of psychotherapy, or both. Treatment choices depend on the problem and the person's preference. Often people believe that they have "failed" at treatment or that the treatment didn't work for them when, in fact, it was not given for an adequate length of time or was administered incorrectly. Sometimes people must try several different treatments or combinations of treatment before they find the one that works for them.

Medication will not cure anxiety disorders, but it can keep them under control while the person receives psychotherapy. The principal medications used for anxiety disorders are antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta-blockers to control some of the physical symptoms. With proper treatment, many people with anxiety disorders can lead normal, fulfilling lives. Here are some other suggestions for dealing with anxiety disorders:

  • Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a self-help or support group and sharing their problems and achievements with others.
  • Internet chat rooms can also be helpful in this regard, but any advice received this way should be used with caution.
  • Talking with a trusted friend or member of the clergy can also provide support, but is not a substitute for care from a mental health professional.
  • Stress management techniques and meditation can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy.
  • Preliminary evidence suggests that aerobic exercise may have a calming effect.
  • Caffeine, certain illicit drugs, and some over-the-counter cold medications can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders, so they should be avoided.
  • Family members should not trivialize the disorder or demand improvement without treatment.

For more information on specific types of anxiety disorders, see panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia.

Mental illness at a glance:

Introduction | Depression | Bipolar Illness | Suicide | Schizophrenia | Anxiety Disorders | Panic Disorder | Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder | Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder | Social Phobia | Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

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