by Michelle Gachelin

Did you know?

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States.

What is it?

Anxiety is "fear or nervousness about what might happen".

-Merriam Webster

Body systems affected

Anxiety affects several parts of the brain, such as the amygdala, which is responsible for memories, survival instincts, and emotions and triggers the anxiety or fear. The hippocampus also plays a role in anxiety. It’s related to long-term memory and encodes information into memories.

What it does to your body

Anxiety evokes the same fight or flight response that stress does, which means that anxiety will trigger a flood of stress hormones like cortisol, designed to enhance your speed, reflexes, heart rate, and circulation. ( This is why we all have heightened senses when we have anxiety. Without anxiety, the brain works normally, with a normal heart rate, circulation, reflexes, etc.

Target population, gender, age, and ethnicity detailing

Anxiety disorder affects both men and women, although 33% of women experience this in their lifetime, compared to only 22% of men.

Anxiety disorders are the common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults in the US every year age 18 or older.

This disorder does occur worldwide and is not specific to a certain race.
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How anxiety arises

Many people have debated whether anxiety comes from nature or nurture. Nature is your natural biology, how you were born - your genes. Nurture is the environment you grew up in - personal experiences and the atmosphere at home.

For example, if you grew up in an environment with frequent yelling or abuse, you might become wired for anxiety. It might make you susceptible to looking out for potential threats, even when they’re no longer there. (nurture) Or if your parents have anxiety, you probably have an increased likelihood of having anxiety because of your genetic code. (nature)

Most people have come to the conclusion that it is a combination of both nature and nurture that causes us to have an anxiety disorder, but no one is quite sure yet.

How anxiety is diagnosed

There are no official lab tests to diagnose someone with anxiety disorder. If symptoms of anxiety disorders are present, the doctor will first test you to see if any physical illness may be the cause of your symptoms. If no physical illness is present, you may be referred to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, who will have a specially designed test to diagnose your anxiety disorder.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms may vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc.), but general signs of anxiety include:

  • feelings of fear or uneasiness,
  • problems sleeping,
  • shortness of breath,
  • heart palpitations,
  • dry mouth,
  • nausea,
  • numbness or tingling in the hands, etc.

Treating anxiety

A form of psychotherapy (the treatment of a mental disorder by psychological rather than medical means - Google) known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective and is the most widely-used treatment against anxiety. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things like people, situations and events. So we can change the way we think and learn to think positively, even if the situation doesn’t change.


People with severe mental illnesses suffer more commonly from premature deaths, but even people with a very mild mental illness have shortened lifespans in comparison to the rest of the population. People with symptoms of anxiety had a 20% increased risk of death compared to normal people. So people with mental disorders such as anxiety have a shortened life by almost a decade.


I chose to research anxiety because I am often under stress and wanted to know if I had anxiety. It also interested me and I wanted to know more about this disorder.

No, I don’t know anyone with an anxiety disorder. My research did not mention anyone famous suffering from anxiety, but I looked it up and Scarlett Johansson, Johnny Depp and Emma Stone all have anxiety.


Goldberg, Joseph, MD. "Physical Effects of Worrying." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016

Peterson, Michael J., MD, PhD. "Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment and Symptoms." MedicineNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016

My teaching tool - Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?