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It’s normal to experience anxiety on occasion, but for some people anxiety is a persistent symptom that takes over their life. Anxiety disorder is a term used to describe a group of conditions where fear, anxiety, or panic are common features - usually accompanied by physical symptoms. Anxiety can occur at any age, but is more commonly seen at certain times in life. Is there a typical age where anxiety disorders are most evident?
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Is There a Typical Age Where Anxiety Disorders Are Most Evident?
Anxiety disorders are of several different types with three of the most common being generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia. The number of Americans affected by some form of anxiety disorder is relatively high. It was estimated by one study to be as high as eighteen percent. The typical age where anxiety disorders are most evident varies with the type of anxiety disorder a person has.
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The Typical Age Where Anxiety Disorders Are Most Evident: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by persistent anxiety that’s unrelated to any specific situation or circumstance. Not only does a person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder experience constant worry and anxiety, he or she also experiences physical symptoms such as sleep problems, tense muscles, restlessness, or fatigue.
The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can begin as early as childhood, although the typical age where it’s most evident is in the late teen years or during early adulthood. When generalized anxiety begins during childhood, the first sign may be symptoms of separation anxiety, where a child fears being away from his or her parents - and going to school. This may progress to generalized anxiety as a child enters the teen years – and makes the transition to college. The stress of college life can re-activate latent symptoms of anxiety in teens and young adults – and may be the first time an anxiety disorder is diagnosed.
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The Typical Age Where Anxiety Disorders Are Most Evident: Panic Disorder
Unlike generalized anxiety disorder, a person with panic attacks experience relatively brief and often intensely frightening episodes of fear and anxiety, with physical symptoms such as sweating, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, and a fear of going crazy or dying.
A person suffering with panic attacks usually has such extreme fear about experiencing another panic attack that they become preoccupied with avoiding a future one. This can lead to general anxiety or even agoraphobia, a fear of leaving home or being in public.
Panic attacks usually begin during the teens or early twenties, although a second peak in incidence occurs in the late forties and early fifties, usually around the time of menopause. This may be partially related to hormonal fluctuations.
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The Typical Age Where Anxiety Disorders are Most Evident
Social phobia is another form of anxiety disorder where a person experiences extreme fear and anxiety when in a social situation and usually begins in the mid-teens. In one study, the average age of onset of social phobia was sixteen years of age. Most people feel nervous when they enter an unfamiliar social situation, but for the person with a social phobia, the fear overtakes their life and becomes an obsession.
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When to Seek Help for Anxiety Disorders
Most children, teens, and adults experience some degree of anxiety, so when should a person seek help for an anxiety disorder? When fear, anxiety, or panic start to dominate a person’s life and make it difficult for them to work, socialize, or find joy in life, it’s time to seek help. The family doctor should be the first person contacted and if counseling is needed, a referral can be made. No one should have to live with an anxiety disorder – no matter what their age.
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Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 62 (6): 617–27.
Clinical Evidence. BMJ Publishing Group. Sixth Edition. pages 744-745.