Slepian Smith, PLLC

Everyone gets anxious, but clinical anxiety is a medical impairment

Being nervous or stressed about a variety of things in life is normal for everyone, but when these feelings become so persistent or extreme that they interfere with normal activities of daily life, the person should consult a doctor about a potential anxiety disorder. A serious anxiety disorder can interfere with self-care, work or school, and relationships, resulting in isolation and decreased quality of life.

It is not uncommon to develop other mental health problems like depression or substance abuse.

The Mayo Clinic explains that anxiety disorders cause frequent “intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” These fears are not proportional to the actual danger faced. Some common symptoms may be:

  • Difficulty controlling anxious thoughts
  • Avoidance of triggering situations
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Hyperventilating
  • Headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Sleep issues
  • Restlessness
  • Tension
  • Nervousness
  • Panic or feelings of danger or doom

One frightening symptom that can occur is the panic attack, in which intense feelings of severe anxiety or fear come on suddenly and unexpectedly.

Types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder or social phobia
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD
  • Various specific phobias
  • Agoraphobia
  • Anxiety caused by a physical medical impairment or from substances like drugs, toxins or medicines
  • Panic disorder
  • Unspecified anxiety disorder

Treatment can include medication and psychotherapy, which can be extremely helpful. Sometimes, though, an anxiety disorder can be very difficult to control and prolonged. When anxiety prevents meaningful work, the person may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, called SSDI or SSI, respectively.

The Social Security Administration, or SSA, is the federal agency that administers these programs, and it officially recognizes that anxiety disorders can be disabling and can prevent work. First, “Anxiety and OCD” is a listed impairment category in the SSA regulations. Listed impairments are those that are so severe that if the claimant’s symptoms meet or equal those described in detail in the official listing, an automatic finding of disability and eligibility for benefits is made.

Second, even if the anxiety condition does not meet or equal the listing, the SSA will assess an applicant’s anxiety in combination with all other impairments to determine how they limit the person’s ability to perform mental and physical work tasks and responsibilities, as well as other factors like age, education and vocational skills.


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