We all experience anxiety from time to time. Considered to be a normal reaction to a stressor, anxiety can motivate us to prepare for or cope with an unpleasant situation. For example, while an approaching deadline for a project may fill us with dread, completing the task before the deadline will alleviate the anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety occur in the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral realms. Physically, we might experience shortness of breath, stomach distress, trembling, or sweating. Cognitively, we may worry about what could happen in the future, obsess about what occurred in the past, or have critical thoughts about ourselves. Emotionally, we may experience anger, sadness, disgust or shame. Behaviorally, we might bite our fingernails, jiggle our feet, attempt to avoid or escape the situation, or distract ourselves with television, computer games, or alcohol and other drugs.
Examples of anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder).
When does “normal” worrying become an anxiety disorder? While different anxiety disorders are marked by unique signs and symptoms, the common feature shared by all anxiety disorders is the presence of significant distress and/or life interference. If you are often troubled by the amount you worry, or the worrying is affecting the choices you make, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.