Anxiety disorders are a group of related mental health conditions characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, or anxiety. These disorders can range from chronic, excessive worry about everyday life to specific phobias or fear of specific places, objects, or situations.
Anxiety disorders are quite common, affecting an estimated 40 million adults in the United States. And if left untreated, they can interfere with your ability to function and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
If not addressed properly and with urgency, anxiety disorders can negatively impact your mental health and potentially lead to the development of other mental health conditions or exacerbate symptoms and chronicity of existing ones.
How Anxiety Can Lead to Other Mental Health Conditions
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety disorders and depression often occur together, with research suggesting around 50 percent of individuals with anxiety disorders will also develop depression at some point.
There are several ways in which anxiety disorders can contribute to the development of depression. For example, individuals with anxiety disorders may experience a negative impact on their quality of life, including difficulties in their relationships, work, and social interactions. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, isolation, and low self-esteem, which can ultimately lead to depression.
Another way in which anxiety can lead to depression is through physical symptoms. Anxiety disorders can cause physical tension, panic attacks, chronic stress, fatigue, insomnia, and digestive problems. These issues can all contribute to the development of depression.
Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders
Anxiety disorders and substance use disorders are also often comorbid, with research suggesting between 40 to 80 percent of individuals with substance use disorders have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder.
So how can anxiety lead to substance use disorder? Substance abuse can be a way for individuals to cope with the overwhelming feelings associated with anxiety disorders, including fear, panic attacks, and feelings of dread. Unfortunately, substance use only masks the symptoms and prolonged use can lead to more severe symptoms and potentially cause substance dependence.
Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as an accident, natural disaster, or physical/sexual assault. People with PTSD may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety as they relive the traumatic event.
And while anxiety does not cause PTSD directly, having an anxiety disorder makes you more sensitive to stress and lowers your ability to cope with overwhelming experiences, which means you are more vulnerable to developing PTSD in the presence of a traumatic experience.
Anxiety and Personality Disorders
Personality disorders are characterized by persistent patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that differ significantly from societal norms and cause distress or impairment. There is a high rate of comorbidity between anxiety disorders and personality disorders, and research suggests that anxiety may be a risk factor for the development of some personality disorders, such as avoidant personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
For instance, people with severe social anxiety often struggle with feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and extreme fear of being rejected or judged negatively, which leads to a crippling fear of social interactions. This can result in avoidant personality disorder.
Anxiety and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia refers to a spectrum of mental disorders characterized by delusions and hallucinations that interfere with daily functioning. While anxiety does not cause schizophrenia directly, it has been associated with changes in brain structure and function, which can make you more vulnerable to developing schizophrenia.
In addition, individuals with anxiety disorders may be more likely to experience psychotic episodes and even develop a psychotic disorder due to the extreme stress associated with the symptoms of anxiety. Not to mention, excessive anxiety can trigger the onset of symptoms in those who are already vulnerable to schizophrenia.
In conclusion, if you have an anxiety disorder, you are at higher risk of developing other mental illnesses, including depression, substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), personality disorders, and even schizophrenia.
As such, it is critical to seek professional treatment for anxiety as early as possible – early intervention can help improve treatment outcomes and prevent or minimize the risk of developing comorbid disorders.