Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?

Woman sitting on the floor dealing with mental health concerns

Everyone experiences being anxious or feeling depressed at some point during their lives. That’s normal. But you might be thinking, “At what point do my anxiety symptoms go beyond normal to the point of being a disorder?” Therapist Lori Ohrt, UnityPoint Health, offers some guidance on symptoms and causes and answers the question, “Is anxiety a mood disorder?”

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Ohrt defines anxiety as a feeling of intense worry, fear or unease. She says it can be caused by several things, including fear of the unknown, unrealistic expectations, physical problems, substances and poor coping skills. She says if you experience fear, worry or panic that interferes with work or functioning in daily life, it’s time to see a doctor. Medical professionals can help you decide if your symptoms could be classified as an anxiety disorder.

Common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia (fear of places & situations)
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias (including social phobias)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Aversion disorders
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition

“Currently, anxiety disorders are up to about 18 percent of the U.S. population,” Ohrt says, “Compared to 1985, when it was only about 5 percent. Onset for a disorder is generally around 25 years of age.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 31 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Ohrt says the causes of anxiety disorder are vast but can include physical issues including drug toxicity, hyperthyroidism, cardiac arrhythmias or hypoglycemia. It can also be triggered by emotional reactions like excessive stress. Ohrt says there are also inherited traits, brain chemistry and personality development involved.

Anxiety symptoms include:

  • Nervousness
  • Fearfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Tenseness
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Significant sweating
  • Trembling for no reason
  • Weakness
  • Trouble sleeping and fatigue
  • Stomach issues

Ohrt says treatment for anxiety disorder is different for everyone, but could include medication, therapy, stress reduction efforts, management of coping skills, staying busy, avoiding drugs and alcohol, improving relaxation skills and exercise.

What are Mood Disorders?

Ohrt defines mood disorders as disorders that are characterized by extreme highs and lows in your mood or energy. The most common types of mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorder. She says mood disorders are most likely caused by life events that trigger an underlying predisposition to the disease, lack of healthy coping skills or medical issues that are not being treated.

Mood Disorder Symptoms include:

  • Built-up stress
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Change in weight without effort
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Agitation
  • Decreased energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of sex drive or interest in sex
  • Food cravings

According to the NIMH, an estimated 21 percent of U.S. adults experience a mood disorder at some point in their lives. Mood disorder are also more common among women than men. However, Ohrt says women are also more likely to seek help than men.

Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?

“No, anxiety is a feeling. All people experience anxiety at some time in their life during events like car accidents, weddings and new jobs. There are things that create anxiety, but are short lived and not an actual disorder. There are several qualifications before anxiety is diagnosed as an anxiety disorder,” Ohrt says.

However, Ohrt identifies that research shows about half of people with an anxiety disorder also develop depression (a mood disorder), if the anxiety is left untreated.

“Depression frequently co-occurs in other mental illnesses. People get frustrated that they just can’t make it go away or stop. So they get depressed on top of whatever illness they are first experiencing,” Ohrt says.

Ohrt says, ultimately, depression and anxiety are not the same. They do have some overlapping symptoms including nervousness, irritability, problems with sleep and concentration. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioral causes.

If you have questions about anything you are feeling, contact your primary care provider. It’s worth a discussion. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

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