From work to relationships, anxiety touches all aspects of your life. In addition to managing your symptoms, this condition brings up a lot of difficult questions. Is anxiety a disability? If it is, what accommodations can be made for you at school or work? And is anxiety covered under the ADA? Here’s what you need to know about anxiety as a disability.
Living With an Anxiety Disability
Life with an anxiety disability is a constant struggle. Anxiety turns tasks and interactions into sources of severe mental and physical anguish despite how simple they may seem. From unexpected triggers to unhealthy coping mechanisms, this condition can seep into all areas of your life if left unchecked.
Anxiety affects everyone differently, and symptoms range from physical to psychological. Some common symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Excessive sweating
- Trouble focusing
- Constant worrying
Anxiety can also trigger panic attacks; periods of intense fear that cause severe physical effects. Those with anxiety often have trouble completing basic tasks due to perceived threats — no matter how irrational these threats may seem.
With an anxiety disability, you may be unable to focus on responsibilities for work or school, even with a tight deadline. You might also struggle to maintain intimate relationships or make decisions. Living in constant fear of an anxiety trigger can lead to high stress levels, which have repercussions of their own.
No two people experience anxiety exactly the same way. Whether it feels like drowning in a wave of fear or being trapped on a never-ending roller coaster, an anxiety disability can inflict serious damage on your life over time.
Having an Anxiety Disorder vs. Being Anxious
It’s easy to confuse being anxious with having an anxiety disorder. But the truth is, most people get anxious occasionally. When faced with stress or uncertainty, some anxiety is a completely natural response. Trouble arises when the stressor goes away but the anxiety doesn’t.
Anxiety disabilities can take several forms, including:
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 31% of adults in the United States will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. This percentage is similar across groups regardless of age and gender — anxiety can truly affect anyone. However, even those who experience anxiety frequently may not have an anxiety disorder.
There are a few characteristics that set anxiety disorders apart from a natural anxiety response. The first is that the anxiety is disproportionate to the situation. Experiencing extreme physiological distress over a minor task that most people would complete without a second thought may indicate you have an anxiety disorder. On the other hand, having severe anxiety in the face of a life-altering situation is a proportional response.
Additionally, an anxiety disorder will prevent you from functioning normally. If you experience natural anxiety, you’ll still be able to maintain relationships, keep up with work and even enjoy hobbies. Those with an anxiety disorder can often find it nearly impossible to get out of bed.
Finally, an anxiety disorder is constant. Even when there’s nothing to stress over, you’ll be unable to prevent worrying and having anxious thoughts. You’ll also spend much of your time trying to avoid triggers.
Is Anxiety Covered Under the ADA?
If you have an anxiety disorder, you know how debilitating it can be. Recognizing that mental conditions can be just as damaging as physical ones, the U.S. government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act in 2008. This expanded the definition of a disability to include various psychological disorders.
So, is anxiety covered under the ADA? The answer is yes — on one condition. To be considered a disability, your anxiety disorder must “substantially limit” your ability to complete major life activities.
A “major life activity” can mean many things. Sleeping, eating, working, communicating and concentrating all fall under this definition. For this reason, if your anxiety is severe enough to be considered a disorder, it likely qualifies as a disability.
The ADA and Mental Health
Under the ADA, anxiety disorders receive the same protection as any other disability. This means employers and businesses can’t discriminate against you due to your condition. Not only does this make exclusion based on a disability illegal, but it also makes inclusion mandatory.
For example, if you find it difficult to work due to an anxiety disorder, your employer can’t bar you from a promotion for this reason alone. They also can’t reduce or limit your pay, even if the disorder hinders your performance.
In order to claim disability status, you must be able to prove your anxiety disorder limits your life in a substantial way. For psychological disorders, evidence of a condition’s effect on you can usually be provided by a medical professional.
Reasonable Accommodations for Anxiety Disorders
According to the ADA, schools and workplaces are required to accommodate your disorder up to a reasonable point. So what kind of anxiety accommodations can you expect?
In the workplace, increased flexibility is a common arrangement. Working from home may ease your symptoms, or you may be more efficient working part-time instead of a full work week. Some people benefit from additional leave time, whether it’s used for a mental health day or a therapy appointment. Even extra break time can make a big difference in the event of a trigger or anxiety attack.
Employers can also provide helpful support systems. Increased communication or one-on-one check-ins may help you cope when you experience anxiety at work. No matter what modifications you require, your employer must work with you to accommodate your needs under the ADA.
Even with ADA protection, an anxiety disorder is life-altering. At FHE Health, we’re ready to help you get the treatment you need to improve your quality of life. Contact us at FHE today to take the first step.