Is Your Anxiety Caused by a Mental Health Condition?

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Most people feel a certain amount of stress and anxiety in their lives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In many situations, feeling a certain level of stress and anxiety can actually help boost your performance in specific contexts. For example, a person may experience a level of anxiety the days leading up to a public speech, marriage, or another big life event.

In many situations, a bit of stress and worry can be expected and is considered a perfectly normal reaction. When faced with an upcoming project at work, an important event, or even a blind date, most people will encounter a fleeting sense of nervousness and extra tension. However, persistent and strong feelings of nervousness and anxiety may be a much bigger concern. Anxiety and panicky feelings that linger long after a stressor has passed, or which occur without any clear reason, may indicate that you are struggling with an anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder

Feeling panicky doesn’t necessarily mean that you have panic disorder. Feelings of panic and anxiety can vary from person to person. In order for these signs to be considered panic attacks, you must experience at least four of the following physical, mental, and emotional symptoms:

Panic attacks are the main feature of panic disorder. Attacks associated with this condition occur suddenly without any warning or trigger. They arise seemingly from nowhere, typically reaching a peak in a few minutes and then gradually subsiding. They then have either a persistent concern about having additional attacks or changes in your behavior related to the attacks.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD is marked by excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities. The symptoms of worry and nervousness persist for six months or longer and are accompanied by a variety of other symptoms, including feelings of fatigue and irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and sleep problems.

Specific Phobias

Phobias involve a fear of a certain object, place, or situation. The feelings of fear the person experiences is excessive—beyond how most people would react and greater than any actual threat of harm. Many specific phobias have their own names. For example, the fear of flying is known as aerophobia and the fear of spiders is called arachnophobia. When faced with his phobia, a person may recognize that his fear is irrational. However, he will still display extreme reactions and can even potentially have a panic attack.

Social Anxiety Disorder

SAD involves a fear of being judged by others in social situations. In particular, the person believes he is being negatively evaluated by others. Thinking about being perceived poorly by others only makes the person exhibit more uncomfortable behaviors, such as trembling, sweating, shaking, or blushing. People with SAD often stay away from social events or any situations in which the person may be exposed to the scrutiny of others.


Often occurring with panic disorder, agoraphobia entails a fear of having a panic attack in places or situations that the person may find socially embarrassing or challenging to escape from. To save face or to feel more secure, many agoraphobics exhibit avoidance behaviors. Common avoidances include crowded areas, open spaces, and vehicles of transportation. In some extreme cases, the person is so fearful that she becomes homebound with agoraphobia.

Discovering Your Diagnosis

Anxiety disorders are quite common and tend to affect women twice as often as men. Because of this, experts recommend routine anxiety screenings for women and girls over the age of 13. Such screenings can be useful for spotting symptoms of anxiety early on, which may lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes. Seek professional help if you experience ongoing feelings of stress, worry, fear, or anxiety.

Only a doctor or qualified mental health specialist can determine an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, your clinician will review your treatment options.

Panic Disorder Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

Common treatments for anxiety disorders include prescribed medication, psychotherapy, and self-help strategies. Treatment options and results can vary depending on your symptoms, resources, and level of commitment. Through continued treatment and follow-up, people with anxiety disorders can expect to improve their control over their symptoms.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gregory KD, Chelmow D, Nelson HD, et al. Screening for anxiety in adolescent and adult women: a recommendation from the Women's Preventive Services Initiative. Ann Intern Med. 2020. doi:10.7326/M20-0580

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.