What is anxiety?
An anxiety disorder is a medical condition that interferes with your life. It can make it difficult for you to handle your job or school responsibilities, do daily tasks, concentrate, and establish and maintain personal relationships. It might even make it difficult for you to leave your home or get out of bed.
Untreated anxiety can increase your risk of more severe, even life-threatening conditions. These conditions include:
Anxiety disorder and depression often occur together. They have similar symptoms and can be difficult to tell apart. Both can cause agitation, insomnia, the inability to concentrate, and feelings of anxiety.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness. This can include anxiety. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 4 percent of adults per year in the United States have serious thoughts about suicide. These numbers are higher in people who also have depression.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social phobia, you are also at an increased risk for suicide. If you have one of these anxiety disorders along with depression, your risk is even greater.
Seek medical help immediately if you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts. If you aren’t near a hospital, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. They have trained staff available to speak with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you have anxiety disorder, you are at increased risk for addiction to many substances. These include alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. If you have depression along with anxiety disorder, your risk increases.
Often, people with anxiety use alcohol and other substances to relieve their symptoms. There is no evidence that alcohol actually relieves anxiety, but the belief that it does can bring some relief. Some people report temporary relief from anxiety while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. However, long-term alcohol use can cause biological changes that may actually produce anxiety.
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social phobia are especially at risk for alcohol and drug abuse. Smoking and substance abuse are also common in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Adolescents with PTSD also have an increased risk of eating disorders.
Anxiety disorder increases your risk of developing certain illnesses. Chronic stress, which may be associated with anxiety, can compromise your immune system. This makes you more susceptible to infections, such as colds, the flu, and other viral and bacterial diseases.
There is no cure for anxiety disorder. It is a chronic condition that can take many forms. The long-term outlook depends on the severity of your condition. Most people with OCD, phobias, and panic disorder improve greatly within the first weeks or months of proper treatment. Many people with PTSD and GAD can also make substantial improvement. Some symptoms of anxiety disorder may diminish with age.
Stress management will probably be an ongoing concern, and symptoms may get worse during periods of acute stress. But with a combination of medication and psychotherapy, most people with anxiety disorder can control their symptoms and live a fairly normal and comfortable life.