A lot of people suffer from anxiety, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an anxiety disorder. The main difference between run-of-the-mill nervousness and an anxiety disorder is that an anxiety disorder interferes with a person’s life by making them avoid situations that cause the anxiety or make it worse.
“Anxiety disorders” is a blanket term used to describe several related conditions. The different types of anxiety disorders are:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some common symptoms include all-consuming fear or panic, nightmares, obsessions and physical symptoms like upset stomach, pounding heart, muscle tension and jumpiness. The cause of these disorders is unknown, but it is thought that the part of the brain that controls fear may be to blame, and that the brain chemistry may play a role. It is also thought to be genetic.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by relentless and severe tension that makes it difficult to carry on normal life functions. The constant and uncontrollable worry causes insomnia, muscle tension and difficulty working. People with GAD are also often irritable, which has a negative impact on social relationships.
Panic disorder is known for its panic attacks. People suffering from a panic attack often think they are having a heart attack or other serious condition, which may make the attack worse. Panic attacks consist of a combination of two or more of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart pounding
- Feeling disconnected
- Trembling or shaking
- Chills or hot flashes
- Fear of loss of control, “going crazy” or death
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), one of the most well-known anxiety disorders, is often joked about, but it isn’t a joke. People with OCD cannot control their recurring irrational thoughts, or obsessions. Some things people obsess over include germs or dirt, having things in a particular order or nagging doubts. Most people with OCD attempt to control their obsessions by repeatedly doing whatever it is that they think will relieve the obsession. For example, someone who is obsessive about germs will wash their hands over and over but will never think they are clean enough. These types of compulsions can make it very difficult to have normal daily routines or relationships.
Phobias involve irrational and unrelenting fear. Most people suffering from a phobia will do anything to avoid whatever it is they are afraid of. There are 3 types of phobias. A person suffering from a social phobia may be anxious about being judged in social situations. Agoraphobia is characterized by being afraid of not being able to get out of an uncomfortable situation or not being able to get help during a panic attack. And in the case of a specific phobia, a person is afraid of an object or situation that is not typically considered harmful.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) usually occurs following a frightening event. Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares or flashbacks of the event, and a person suffering from PTSD will avoid situations reminding them of the event at all costs. Other symptoms of PTSD are feelings of being detached from reality, insomnia and irritability.
Anxiety disorders affect over 25 million Americans and are the most common emotional disorders. Many sufferers fail to look for help. In fact, many people with anxiety disorders don’t even realize they have a treatable condition. There is help, though, usually in the form of psychotherapy and/or medications. With the help of a psychiatrist, most people who suffer from an anxiety disorder can, at the very least, be relieved of some of their symptoms.