Overview of Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal reaction to threatening, dangerous, uncertain, or important situations. Psychiatric medicine classifies anxiety as normal or pathological. In many cases, normal anxiety can enhance function, motivation, and productivity (e.g., in the person who works well under pressure). People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience pathological anxiety, which is excessive, chronic (lasting at least 6 months), and typically interferes with the ability to function in normal daily activities. Generalized or "free-floating" anxiety is distinguished from phobia because it is not triggered by a specific object or situation.

Incidence & Prevalence of Anxiety

GAD affects more than 6 million people in the United States. The chance that any given person in the United States will develop it over a lifetime is estimated at 8–9 percent. More than 10 percent of people who are treated in mental health clinics are diagnosed with GAD. General anxiety disorder affects more women (60 percent) than men (40 percent).

Because perceptions and descriptions of anxiety differ among cultures, it is hard to assess the global prevalence of anxiety disorders. Many people in the United States who are diagnosed with GAD claim to have been nervous or anxious their whole lives. Eastern societies, on the other hand, perceive and treat anxiety differently, for example, as a condition often associated with pain.

Publication Review By: Debra Emmite, M.D.

Published: 02 May 2001

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015