Understanding Anxiety
An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S., or 18%, have an anxiety disorder.

Understanding Anxiety

By Jaime B., Therapist

What is anxiety exactly? The definition of anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Everyone experiences forms of anxiety in their lives.  Whether it is an upcoming exam, job interview, medical appointment, the birth of a child, traveling in inclement weather, meeting a deadline, or fear of certain things (spiders, snakes, elevators, etc.), any of the above mentioned, and so many more situations can cause us to feel anxiety. With the holidays coming closer upon us, many people feel anxiety this time of year due to planning for the holidays, childcare, taking time off work, traveling, Christmas shopping, cooking, and family gatherings, to name a few.

It’s important to note that everyone feels anxiety to some degree regularly throughout their life — fear and anxiety can be adaptive and helpful emotions that can function to help us notice danger or threat, keep us safe, and help us adapt to the environment.  Anxiety disorders represent states when fear or anxiety becomes severe or extreme, to the extent that it causes an individual significant distress, or impairs their ability to function in important facets of life such as work, school, or relationships.  If anxiety affects your life more adversely than not and causes significant impairment in functioning, you should talk to your health care/mental health care provider about options to assist in decreasing levels of anxiety.

So how do we recognize symptoms of anxiety?  Symptoms can be displayed in different forms.

Psychological symptoms may include:  Feelings of apprehension or dread, Feeling restless or irritable, Feeling tense or jumpy, Anticipating the worst, Constantly watching for signs of danger;

Physical symptoms may include:  Rapid or pounding heartbeat, Shortness of breath, Excessive sweating, Tremors or twitches, Headache, Fatigue or weakness, Insomnia, Nausea or upset stomach, Frequent urination or diarrhea;

It can be tricky to decide when anxiety is typical or linked to a disorder, which is why diagnoses should be made by licensed professionals, such as psychologists or psychiatrists.  A helpful approach to distinguishing normal anxiety from an anxiety disorder is to identify the cause of the anxiety, and then assess whether the anxiety symptoms are a proportional response to it. Worries, fears, and intrusive thoughts that are extreme, unrealistic, or exaggerated and interfere with normal life and functioning could constitute an anxiety disorder. For instance, being concerned about getting sick and taking steps to avoid germs, like using hand sanitizer and avoiding touching door handles, does not necessarily constitute an anxiety disorder; however, if the concern about sickness makes it difficult to leave the house, then it is possible that the person suffers from an anxiety or anxiety-related disorder.

There are many anxiety-related disorders, and they are divided into three main categories:

  1. Anxiety disorders
  2. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
  3. Trauma- and stressor-related disorders

If you are struggling with symptoms of an anxiety disorder, it is not uncommon to feel alone and misunderstood. Because others do not experience the fear that people with an anxiety disorder have, they may not understand why, for example, being in a crowd of people, not being able to wash your hands after meeting a new person, or driving through the street where you got in a car accident can be really anxiety-provoking for someone with an anxiety disorder. People may comment that “there is no reason to worry about it” or that you “should just let it go.”

Not everyone understands is that someone with an anxiety disorder cannot “just let things go.” This makes the struggle with an anxiety disorder even harder and may prevent one from looking for help. However, it is critical to talk about these anxieties with someone and preferably find a health care professional as soon as you experience these symptoms. Anxiety should be considered as severe as a physical disease.

If you think you might be struggling with an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.
  • Anxiety disorders afflict over 40 million American adults
  • 40% of American adults have experienced an Anxiety Disorder at some point in their life
  • Only 1/3 of adults suffering from anxiety disorders receive treatment
  • Only 1/5 of teenagers suffering from anxiety disorders receive treatment
  • Anxiety disorders are estimated to cost society over $42 billion per year

Prevention and Coping Strategies:  There are many highly effective treatment options available for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. These treatments can be broadly categorized as: 1) Psychotherapy; 2) Medications; and 3) Complementary and Alternative Therapies (i.e., stress management, meditation, yoga).  Patients diagnosed with anxiety can benefit from one or a combination of these various therapies.   Learning Relaxation Strategies, Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga, Exercise, Healthy Diet, and Rest, Awareness and Identifying Triggers, Surrounding yourself with supportive Friendships & Family, and/or contacting a Therapist can be beneficial to coping with anxiety.

Even though not everyone will struggle with a diagnosable anxiety disorder, learning techniques to aid in relief from anxiety and to manage the “normal” anxiety experienced in everyday life can help you live the life you desire.


Highland-Clarksburg Hospital is a private, non-profit mental health hospital located in Clarksburg, WV. HCHI offers services for youth, adults, and forensic patients, all suffering from mental health problems. For more information about Highland-Clarksburg Hospital, visit HighlandClarksburgHospital.com or call 304-969-3100. Keep up-to-date with our activities and events by following our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/HighlandClarksburgHospital

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