May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which means it’s the ideal time to encourage education pertaining to mental health conditions that affect nearly 450 million people worldwide. In New York City alone, at least one in five adults is likely to experience a mental health disorder in any given year. And considering that anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in the United States, these mental health issues need to be discussed.

But despite the fact that 18.1 percent of the nation’s population (or 40 million adults over the age of 18) will be affected by anxiety disorders every year, these conditions are largely misunderstood and are often minimized. The first step is to identify the different types of anxiety disorders that exist and the potential signs of these disorders. Although these disorders are highly treatable, current estimates show that only about a third of those who are suffering actually obtain treatment. Armed with the necessary information, individuals may feel more empowered to seek effective treatment options.

Anxiety disorders: a brief introduction

There are several different types of anxiety disorders that exist, many of which may also present themselves alongside depression or other mental health issues. Typically, the term “anxiety disorder” refers to psychiatric conditions involving extreme fears or worries — a category that includes generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, separation anxiety, and certain phobias. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also closely related to anxiety disorders.

Signs of anxiety and anxiety disorders

It’s important to note that there is a distinct difference between everyday anxiety many of us feel in stressful situations and anxiety disorders that impact individuals on a near-constant basis. Feeling worried about paying a bill, doing well in a job interview, or coping with a recent traumatic event doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. But if you feel constantly anxious in a way that interferes with your daily life, keeps you from socializing with others, and seems to have no rational root cause, it’s possible that you may be dealing with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.

Other symptoms of anxiety disorders may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Tension or jumpiness
  • Feelings of dread, danger, or apprehension
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Tremors or twitches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Concentration or cognitive issues
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle aches

Because there are several different kinds of anxiety disorders (and each may present itself differently), an individual with one of these conditions may not check all of these boxes. But understanding the most common symptoms can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to make realizations about your mental health.

Potential treatments for anxiety disorders

If you feel you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder, it’s generally a good practice to see your primary care physician first. Your doctor will likely check to see whether your anxiety may actually be related to an underlying physical health condition, which can then be treated. Assuming your anxiety is related to your mental health, you’ll want to make an appointment to see a mental health professional for treatment.

Treatments for anxiety disorders may involve different techniques. For some, psychotherapy may be enough to provide relief. For others, a combination of therapy and medication may work best. Many people also find that homeopathic remedies (like exercise, limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption, or meditation) may act as effective supplements, though these should not typically be used in place of therapeutic or medical options.

Of all the different types of therapeutic treatments available for anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) is considered to be the most effective. This short-term therapeutic option focuses on how unhelpful thought patterns lead to unhealthy behaviors, and how making adjustments to thought patterns can modify perception and action in patients. By participating in cognitive therapy in NYC, patients can expect major life improvements, and the lessons learned during therapy will be referenced by patients for the rest of their lives.

If you or a loved one are struggling with what may be an anxiety disorder, it’s essential to recognize and reaffirm that these conditions are valid and treatable. By breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and discussing these conditions out in the open, empowerment and relief are possible.