Many people experience anxiety in everyday life, but they roll with the changes and continue with their lives. It’s considered a quite common mental health issue and skirts the boundary line between what’s normal and what could be signs of a more fundamental problem. One of the most common questions people ask is whether or not anxiety is a mood disorder.
Anxiety is best described in simple terms. It’s something that causes momentary fear, trepidation, and uneasiness. Depending on the situation (a test at school, an important work presentation, a blind date), you may notice a short-term change in heartbeat (from ordinary to fast) and breathe (from normal to shortness of breath). Still, these feelings or physical indicators clear up for most people. Anyone can have anxiety, regardless of their age or gender.
How Anxiety Differs from a Mood Disorder
I asked the question, “Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?” The answer is mixed. Like many mental health conditions, anxiety is complex and nuanced.
The biggest differentiator between it and any mood disorder is that feelings and physical reactions associated with anxiety are primarily short-lived and non-consequential. But if anxiety becomes more common and long-lasting, and its symptoms affect your ability to manage daily life, you may have early signs of a far worse mood disorder.
What is a mood disorder?
When healthcare providers and mental health specialists talk about different kinds of depression and bipolar disorders, they’re often lumped together into a mental health classification called mood disorders. These can affect kids, teenagers, and adults, but children and teens don’t present the same warning signs as adults. And it’s often more challenging to diagnose mood disorders in kids because – unlike adults – they’re not always able to express their feelings.
For someone with a mood disorder, their overall emotional comportment or mood can be distorted or unpredictable compared to what’s happening, interfering with their ability to function in everyday life.
The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology calls a mood disorder “a psychiatric condition in which the principal feature is a prolonged, pervasive emotional disturbance.”
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms vary by person depending on many factors, like overall mental and physical wellness, the situation, and personality traits. But healthcare providers and mental health specialists have come up with a general list of symptoms that tend to appear at some point in nearly all kinds of mood disorders, including:
- You experience sadness, anxiety, or low mood
- You feel hopeless or helpless
- You have poor self-esteem
- Feelings of worthlessness
- You hold onto extreme guilt about things you shouldn’t
- You’re preoccupied with death or suicide
- You’re no longer interested in things you used to enjoy doing
- Your life is filled with relationship issues
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in eating habits or weight
- Low energy
- Problems concentrating or decision making
- You often complain of headaches, fatigue, or stomach problems – things that don’t get go away even with treatment
- You run away from, or threaten to run away from, home
- Overly sensitive to criticism, failure, or rejection
- You’re easily irritated, hostile, or aggressive
Many of these symptoms can be treated with medications like ketamine or counseling.
Mood disorders have many potential causes, including biology, genetics, and the environment, but there are also many risk factors to be concerned with. You may be predisposed to have a mood disorder depending on your family history, previous diagnosis with other mood disorders, traumatic or stressful life changes, medical problems or conditions, or physical changes in your brain.
Collectively, mood disorders affect nearly 10% of U.S. adults and even more children and adolescents. Common anxiety disorders include postpartum depression, high-functioning depression (also called dysthymia), seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder, and others.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Treating anxiety or a more serious mood disorder first depends on getting diagnosed by your healthcare provider or mental health specialist. A diagnosis is a three-step approach involving:
- A physical examination, where your clinician will document your personal and family medical history and perform tests to see if an underlying health problem causes your problem.
- A psychiatric assessment.
- Comparing your symptoms to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for mood disorders.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mood disorder, successful treatment may include counseling, diet and lifestyle changes, certain medicines, or even ketamine infusion therapy.