Frequently Asked Questions
Anxiety is a normal part of living. It’s a biological reaction—the body’s way of telling us something isn’t right. It keeps us from harm’s way and prepares us to act quickly in the face of danger. But if your anxiety becomes overwhelming and persistent, or if it interferes with your regular daily activities, or even makes them impossible, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Researchers are learning that anxiety disorders run in families, and that they have a biological basis, much like allergies or diabetes and other disorders. Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. Find out more.
Treatments for anxiety disorders may include medication or therapy; both types have been found effective. A combination of medication and therapy may also be effective. The decision about treatment is based on your needs and preferences. Discuss your options with a professional who is familiar with your diagnosis and overall health. Scientific evidence is growing about complementary and alternative treatment, which is an approach to health care that exists outside conventional medicine practiced in the United States.
Consult a doctor or therapist to get a proper diagnosis and to learn about treatment options, length of treatment, side effects, time commitment, and other health issues to help you decide on the best treatment approach for you.
No: Generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD, is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with this disorder experience exaggerated worry and tension, often expecting the worst, even when there is no apparent reason for concern. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. They don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.
Anxiety, or general anxiety, is a normal reaction to stressful and uncertain situations. It’s your body telling you to stay alert and protect yourself.
Learn the difference between general anxiety about the economy and generalized anxiety disorder.
Success of treatment varies, but most people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care. Benefits of CBT are usually seen in 12 to 16 weeks. Medication may be a short-term or long-term treatment option, depending on severity of symptoms, other medical conditions and individual circumstances. It often takes time and patience to find the drug that works best for you. Treatment may be complicated if you have more than one anxiety disorder or if they suffer from depression, substance abuse, or other co-existing conditions. This is why treatment must be tailored specifically for each person.
Anxiety disorders can be treated by a wide range of mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurses. Increasingly aware of the problems of anxiety disorders and depression, primary care physicians make frequent diagnoses, and they may prescribe medication or refer a patient to a mental health provider.
Four major classes of medications are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders:
- SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
- SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors)
- tricyclic antidepressants
Contact your physician if you experience side effects, even if you are not sure a symptom is caused by a medication. Do not stop taking a medication without consulting with the prescribing physician; abrupt discontinuation may cause other health risks.
Medications will work only if they are taken according the explicit instructions of your physician, but they may not resolve all symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Find out more.
Any treatment plan has risks and benefits, and for pregnant women, the risks are of particular concern. The effectiveness and safety of treating symptoms for anxiety disorders and depression differs for every woman. Talk to your doctor before beginning or changing any treatment plan.
Find out more, including the recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication are effective in treating children with anxiety disorders. Recent research found that a combination of CBT and an antidepressant worked better for children ages 7-17 than either treatment alone.
Because one child may respond better, or sooner, to a particular treatment than another child with the same diagnosis, it’s important to discuss with your doctor or therapist how to decide which treatment works best for your child and family lifestyle. Learn more.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning in October 2004 that antidepressant medications, including SSRIs, may increase suicidal thoughts and behavior in a small number of children and adolescents. However, the FDA has not prohibited or removed these medications, and no suicides were reported in the studies that led to the warning.
You should not necessarily refuse to give your child medication, but you should watch for signs of depression and talk to your child’s doctor or therapist about any concerns. Untreated anxiety disorders in children increases the risk for depression, social isolation, substance abuse, and suicide. Read more information about medications.
Find out about resources that offer assistance in paying for treatment. Family physicians also may have information about low-cost treatment resources.