It’s normal to be worried or anxious when you have a big test tomorrow or a lot of homework to do or you’ve got a big game coming up with your sports team. A little stress or worry is actually a good thing and can make you do better. But a lot of stress or worry — especially when you cannot stop worrying — can indicate a problem like an anxiety disorder.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

A person with an anxiety disorder is one who suffers from excessive or ongoing worry or anxiety. This worry eventually becomes so severe that it begins to interfere with daily life, like school and relationships with family and friends.

How Does Someone Know if They Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety can be very different from one person to another, but some of the mostly commonly reported signs of this problem include:

  • Worry, stress or anxiety that does not seem to go away and that you cannot put aside or stop thinking about
  • Worrying about being worried
  • Difficulty making decisions or worrying if you have made the right ones
  • Physical symptoms like feeling tired, getting angry easily, tight and/or sore muscles, headaches and digestive problems

What Causes an Anxiety Disorders?

Unfortunately, doctors are still not quite sure what causes an anxiety disorder — or why some people get them in response to stress and some people don’t. However, they believe that part of the answer may be that it is genetic — in other words, something that you inherit from your mom and dad when you are born, the way you inherit the color of your eyes.

Who is at Risk for an Anxiety Disorder?

Certain people appear to be at a greater risk for developing an anxiety disorder. These include:

  • People who have a family history of this problem
  • People who have a negative personality or a personality that avoid problems and challenges
  • Women and girls
  • People who already have another medical condition such as depression or phobias

Are There Any Complications?

Anxiety disorders can bring complications with them, such as:

  • Problems with sleeping or appetite (either eating or sleeping too much or too little)
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome
  • Problems at school or with friends and family
  • Heart problems
  • Fatigue

How Can a Doctor Tell if Someone Has an Anxiety Disorder?

In order to make a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, a doctor will:

  • Ask about signs and symptoms
  • Look into a patient’s family and medical history
  • Complete a physical exam
  • Order blood or urine tests in case he or she suspects that there is another medical condition at fault
  • Have a patient (or parents) fill out psychological questionnaires

How Can an Anxiety Disorder be Treated?

Anxiety disorders can be difficult to live with — and can feel scary for both the patient and for their family and friends. The good news is, however, that there are treatments available to help make this condition better.  These include:

  • Counselling, where a patient talks to a professional about their feelings and fears and gets advice from that professional about what changes they can make to help ease these feelings.
  • Antidepressants like Effexor to help treat any problems with depression
  • Anti-anxiety medications like Buspirone
  • Short-term use of medications called benzodiazepines like Xanax; however, there is the risk of getting dependent on medications like these which is why they cannot be used in the long term

Are There Any Natural Therapies for Anxiety?

Many people who have anxiety disorders also use natural treatments in addition to — or instead of — traditional therapy. These natural treatments can include:

  • Regular exercise such as long walks; regular exercise releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which lead to natural feelings of relaxation
  • Disciplines like yoga or tai chi which can help to decrease stress levels
  • Meditation or other relaxation techniques that are especially important when dealing with stressful situations
  • Staying away from caffeine and nicotine, which can make anxiety worse
  • Getting enough sleep at night; lack of sleep can also make someone feel more emotional or anxious
  • Eating healthy
  • Using herbs like valerian, kava, chamomile, passionflower and minerals like magnesium; it is very important, though, to talk to a doctor before trying any of these supplements, especially if someone is one medications already.

Anxiety disorders can feel difficult or overwhelming to deal with. However, with treatments and the use of the natural therapies and lifestyle changes mentioned above, many people can learn to control these anxieties and get back to leading a normal life.