When Does Anxiety Turn into A Disorder?

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Anxiety is a normal human emotion, but when it becomes excessive or irrational, it is time to seek help. There are many types of anxiety, including specific phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia. Anxiety is not a disease and can be treated with therapy, medication, or self-help measures. A healthy diet and an active lifestyle can keep your anxiety levels within the range that is considered normal.

Anxiety Is a Normal Human Emotion

While everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, some people may find their feelings excessive or become an anxiety disorder. While anxiety is a natural reaction to fear, excessive anxiety can negatively impact everyday life. People may also become more withdrawn from friends and family, avoid certain places, and hide their feelings. This type of behaviour is called a phobia. People with phobias have an overwhelming fear of specific things, situations, or behaviours.

Anxiety in children can become chronic and interfere with their lives. Uncontrolled anxiety can interfere with daily activities and social interactions and may even result in depression. Treatments for anxiety in children include cognitive behavioural therapy and medication. Anxiety symptoms in teens may vary but may indicate an anxiety disorder. Anxiety in adolescents can occur due to many potential factors, both external and internal. If you notice that your teen is frequently anxious, you should see a professional to help them work through it.

Excessive or Irrational Anxiety

Although the nervous feeling that comes with anxiety is a natural echo of the fight-or-flight response, too much of it can lead to an actual disorder. Anxiety can be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem depending on the situation. For example, someone may develop a disorder if they experience physical symptoms unrelated to the original stressor.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the U.S., affecting approximately 40 million people. Approximately 30 percent of adults suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety is common in children and young adults and begins during childhood and adolescence. Many children and teens experience anxiety when faced with new or stressful situations, or due to bullying, harassment, teasing, stalking and a variety of uncontrollable external stressors.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition, specific criteria for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are outlined. A standardized set of symptoms helps clinicians recognize mental health issues and develop treatment plans. One of these criteria is an excessive worry, which persists for at least six months and is difficult to control. Worry about one topic may shift to another without reprieve. Children may also exhibit traits of perfectionism, such as needing constant approval and reassurance from parents, caregivers or peers.

When does generalized anxiety disorder turn into a disorder?

Symptoms of anxiety may include procrastination, self-sabotaging behaviour, and avoidance of social situations. If these behaviours persist or worsen, you should speak with a professional to help navigate the root causes. A proper diagnosis is crucial to a patient’s recovery. Be honest with your healthcare provider about your symptoms, as this may indicate a condition that requires further medical treatment.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is a recurring apprehension that can affect a person’s life and can cause severe distress. Many of these phobias are learned and may develop from childhood. The age at which a child develops a specific phobia can vary greatly, and some people may have no family history of the disorder. Specific phobias can affect both a person’s routine activities and social interactions. They are usually first observed in childhood and may continue into adolescence. Children without phobias become more fearful as they mature, which does not diminish with reassurance. The fear is often not cured by merely being told it is not dangerous, or that the fear is atypical.

Currently, it is difficult to identify a precise age when anxiety turns into a disorder. However, studies show that a person cannot be too young to develop a specific phobia. The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for specific phobias include the recognition of excessive fear. Although a child can develop a specific phobia at any age, the prevalence of the disorder in children is greatest between the ages of ten and thirteen. Two percent to four percent of children suffer from specific phobias. It is unknown how common these phobias are in children, although girls tend to experience them earlier than boys.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a mental illness characterized by intense anxiety. People who suffer from PTSD tend to have trouble adjusting to their new normal. To overcome the anxiety, they must confront the trauma, gain perspective, and heal themselves. A therapist can help patients work through these experiences and gain self-understanding. With a strong commitment to healing, a person suffering from PTSD can regain emotional equilibrium and find a sense of peace.

The onset of PTSD symptoms is rapid, often within the first three months of a traumatic event. However, some people show signs of the disorder months after the event. The symptoms must occur within three months of the traumatic event. Furthermore, the occurrence of the disorder must have interfered with a person’s ability to function in their work and relationships. Although various treatments are available, the most successful are usually psychological and behavioural. This treatment involves confronting the memory and working with a licensed professional through the associated thoughts, feelings and environmental stressors. While psychological treatment does not always work for the long-term sufferer, it is effective for those suffering from PTSD.

About the Writer

Daniel Watts graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor of Arts in English & Literature. He has written professionally for over seven years, helping numerous small and medium-sized businesses establish a strong online brand presence from the ground up.

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Daniel currently works as a Project Manager of Content at BreezeMaxWeb®, a leading Toronto digital marketing agency. His responsibilities include carefully managing written content and helping to facilitate projects at optimal quality. He also helps write content for client websites, quality checks each website, and oversees the editing, approval and posting process for all keyword-optimized content.