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Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear or anxiety. Fear is the emotional response to a real or perceived threat, and anxiety is the anticipation of future threat. Individuals with anxiety disorders typically try to avoid situations that make them feel anxious or fearful, and this avoidance behavior interferes with functioning at school and at home. Individuals with anxiety may have symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, or sleep disturbances.

Fear and anxiety are oftentimes normal and even adaptive emotions, but anxiety disorders are diagnosed when they are excessive or persisting beyond what is developmentally appropriate. Individuals with anxiety disorders typically overestimate the danger in situations that they fear or avoid, and the fear or anxiety persists longer than it does for people without anxiety disorders.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, which are oftentimes co-occurring but different in terms of the types of objects or situations that cause fear or anxiety. A few major types are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: chronic and exaggerated worry, even when there is nothing to provoke it
  • Panic disorder: unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear, accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, hard palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and/or stomach aches
  • Social anxiety disorder: marked fear and avoidance of social situations
  • Specific phobia: marked fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation (e.g. flying, heights, animals, blood)
  • Separation anxiety disorder: excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or from caregivers

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but without treatment, individuals with anxiety disorders may experience social isolation, academic and/or vocational underperformance, and limited participation in leisure activities.