Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Jitters on a first date? Totally normal. Stressed before a job interview? It happens. Everyone experiences a little anxiety now and then, but if you’re worried more often than not or fear chronic anxiousness is affecting your life satisfaction, you could be dealing with adult anxiety.
About 40 million adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder. A diagnosis could initially create more worry, but it’s the first step in getting treatment and managing your mental health.
Understanding the different psychiatric disorders and knowing what the most common anxiety symptoms are can help you find treatment faster. Let’s dive in.
Before you can treat adult anxiety, you need to know what type of anxiety you have. Though some anxiety disorders are more common among adults, it’s good to have a rough idea of all potential conditions.
While you should never self-diagnose — that’s what a mental health professional is for! — it can help to learn about the different anxiety disorders in adults. That way, you can be on the lookout for signs you may be facing one.
Though it tends to start in the early teen years, social anxiety disorder often extends into adulthood. In fact, it affects about 15 million adults in the United States.
Sometimes called social phobia, the condition involves anxiousness in social settings or a fear that others are judging you or paying close attention to what you do. This could be anything from speaking in public to going to a party.
Nearly 4 percent of adults in the United States are affected by PTSD, and women are five times more likely than men to deal with this anxiety disorder.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says it can happen after going through a traumatic event, like a sexual assault, a car accident or a natural disaster. When someone experiences long-term effects of trauma, it could result in PTSD.
Affecting over 3 percent of adults in the U.S., generalized anxiety disorder is one of the more common types of adult anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder may be diagnosed when someone has difficulty managing anxiety over the course of six months or longer.
Women in the United States are twice as likely to be affected by panic disorder than men. Across both genders, about 3 percent of adults deal with PD.
Slightly less common than the anxiety disorders mentioned above, obsessive-compulsive disorder affects just over 1 percent of adults in the United States.
To figure out which of these anxiety disorders you have (if any), a mental health professional with a background in diagnosing mental health and mood disorders will look closely at your anxiety symptoms.
If you’re an adult with one of these disorders, you’ll likely experience a number of anxiety symptoms. Some may affect your mental health, while others may impact your physical health. The specific anxiety disorder you’re dealing with will determine the exact symptoms of anxiety disorder you may feel.
Adults with social phobia, for instance, may blush or sweat excessively in social situations, experience a pounding heart, have trouble making eye contact or feel extremely self-conscious.
If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you may notice restlessness, fatigue and irritability, along with physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension.
Panic disorder involves some of the same anxiety symptoms as GAD (like uncontrollable feelings of worry). Trembling, panic attacks and feelings of doom are other things people with PD may feel. Also, the fear of having a panic attack can make you avoid daily responsibilities.
As for PTSD, adults with this anxiety disorder may have flashbacks of the trauma they lived through. They may also avoid situations that remind them of the experience.
Knowing what the symptoms of anxiety disorder look like and how they can affect your emotional and physical health can help you find the right treatment.
Experiencing anxiety as a child is not all that uncommon. In fact, anxiety in kids increased between 2016 and 2020, with almost 10 percent of children facing anxiousness.
Interestingly, having an anxiety disorder as a kid increases your risk of having depression or anxiety as an adult. Not only that, but negative childhood experiences or trauma (like the death of a parent or childhood sexual abuse) can lead to anxiety issues in adulthood.
While childhood anxiety can be a predictor of adult anxiety, those who didn’t deal with adolescent anxiety can still develop the condition as an adult.
If you think you’re struggling with excessive anxiety, a professional diagnosis is the first step in finding treatment. An anxiety disorder can be diagnosed by a doctor, a therapist or another type of mental health professional.
In any case, your provider will ask about your symptoms and may perform a physical exam. And they might do a blood test to check for other medical conditions that have similar symptoms as anxiety.
They’ll also ask if you’re on any medications, as the side effects of certain drugs can be similar to the symptoms of anxiety in adults.
Your healthcare provider may have you fill out a health questionnaire about your family history of anxiety or other mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, depressive disorder or other mood disorders. And they might ask if you have any past trauma or dealt with a mental illness as a child.
Read our blog on the connection between PTSD and bipolar if you'd like to learn more about these mental health conditions.
Treatment options depend on the condition you’re living with and your specific anxiety symptoms. But medication and talk therapy are often prescribed for many types of anxiety disorders.
Some people may only take medication or just do therapy for anxiety disorders, though many adults find that a combination of both to be most effective.
Talk therapy can be a very effective way to treat adult anxiety. One of the more common forms of therapy for anxiety is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on cognitive functioning.
With CBT, you’ll team up with a mental health professional to suss out behaviors and thought patterns contributing to your anxiety. Then you’ll work together to change those behaviors, a process sometimes referred to as cognitive restructuring.
Another type of therapy that may be recommended is exposure therapy. This treatment has been found to be particularly helpful with generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. In exposure therapy, you’ll safely confront things that make you anxious.
There are other types of therapy too. To figure out which option will be most effective in treating your anxiety, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional.
Though anti-anxiety medications don’t cure anxiety, they can help reduce the impact of emotional and physical symptoms.
But before taking a new medication, it’s important to disclose any medical conditions you have and other prescription drugs you’re on. That way, your healthcare provider can ensure the new medication won’t harm your physical health or make your anxiety symptoms worse.
Anxiety is one of the more common mental health conditions. There are a number of adult anxiety disorders, the most common being generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dealing with anxiety symptoms can really impact your daily life. Some people have trouble engaging in day-to-day activities and finding life satisfaction.
Before diagnosing you with an anxiety disorder, a mental health professional will look at your anxiety symptoms and how they impact your daily life and life satisfaction. They may also assess your physical health to rule out any other medical conditions.
Don’t be surprised if your provider asks if you have a history of mental illness or other psychiatric disorders, such as a past struggle with bipolar disorder or other mood disorders and depressive disorders like major depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or comorbid depression.
Thankfully, these mental health conditions can be treated to lessen their impact on your emotional and physical well-being.
Therapy for anxiety disorders in adults has been found to be very helpful, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy. Medication is another common way to address anxiety symptoms.
If you’re dealing with severe symptoms of excessive anxiety, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with a healthcare professional. They’ll talk to you about the various symptoms of anxiety disorders and determine if you have generalized anxiety disorder or another common anxiety disorder in adults.
They’ll also discuss treatment options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders and potential medications. Get started with a personalized treatment plan with Hers today.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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