Anxiety Disorders



The cause of anxiety is not clear. Trauma, stress, and genetics may all play a role. They may cause a change in how the brain reacts to stress. Other health issues and medicine may also play a role.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of an anxiety disorder are:

  • Family member with anxiety disorders
  • Stressful life events
  • Not having good habits to manage stress—or harmful habits to deal with stress
  • History of trauma emotional or physical
  • Long-term illness or treatment
  • Substance abuse
  • History of self-harm as a teenager



An anxiety disorder can cause:

  • Worry or dread
  • Unwanted thoughts
  • Sense of danger or catastrophe
  • Fear or panic
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Uncertainty
  • Problems focusing

It can also cause physical problems such as:

  • Headache
  • Feeling tired
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeats
  • Sweating (especially the palms)
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing or blushing
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Problems sleeping
  • Shaking
  • Choking sensation
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loose, frequent stools (poop)
  • Feeling of 'butterflies' in the stomach
  • Sexual problems
  • Tingling sensations
  • Nail biting or other habitual behavior
Symptoms of Anxiety
Physiological effects of anxiety
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. The doctor should also know about a person's medicines, drugs or supplements. A physical and exam will be done. The doctor will also ask questions about emotional health. It is important to be honest and open with the doctor. Many mental health disorders go untreated because people do not ask for help. An anxiety disorder may be suspected based on answers to these questions.

Other tests may be done if there could be another cause of anxiety. A referral may be made to a mental health professional. They can help to diagnose anxiety disorders or other mental health issues.



Anxiety disorders can be managed. Treatment can help to lower the effect on day to day life. The goal is to reduce stress and improve the reaction to it. A treatment plan may include a mix of the following:

Lifestyle Changes

Physical health can play an important role. Good overall health can improve mood. This may include getting enough sleep, choosing healthful foods, and exercise. Social support also plays an important role.

Food or drink with caffeine, drugs, and alcohol can also make anxiety worse.

Stress Management

Stress should be avoided when possible. Other steps can help to decrease the response to stress. Steps may include:

  • Deep breathing and meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga


Therapy will address thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they affect day to day life. It can also help work through traumas and conflicts. There are different types of therapy. A care team will help to find which type is best for each person's needs. Therapy may change over time.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy. It focuses on negative thought patterns and behaviors. Practice will help to retrain thinking to decrease reaction to stress and anxiety. CBT has been very effective in children and teens.


Medicine may help those with severe anxiety. Some medicines that are used for anxiety are:

  • Antidepressants
  • Buspirone
  • Benzodiazepines


The cause of anxiety disorders is not clear, so prevention is not known. To decrease the risk of an anxiety episode:

  • Be aware of situations, work, and people that cause you stress. Avoid them if you can.
  • Find a relaxation technique that works for you. Practice it often, not just when you have anxiety.
  • Grow and keep a strong social support system.
  • Express your emotions when they happen.
  • Challenge beliefs and thoughts that are not helpful to you.
  • Correct misperceptions. Ask others for their points of view.
  • Work with a therapist.
  • Avoid nicotine or other drugs. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation:
    • 1 drink or less per day for women
    • 2 drinks or less per day for men.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.