A Complete Guide to Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. In moderation, feeling anxious is a good thing – it is part of the human body’s fight-or-flight response. It helps us solve difficult situations and protect ourselves when in danger. Although anxiety is a normal and necessary response to dangerous situations, some people experiencing long-term and intense symptoms that severely affect their way of life.

When anxiety becomes constant, overwhelming, and even debilitating, it is a serious problem that usually needs psychiatric care. Although anxiety disorders may feel debilitating, it’s vital to know that you are not alone and that there are millions of people out there who have learned how to effectively treat their condition. Being among the most common mental health conditions, anxiety issues are also highly treatable and treatments tend to have high success rates.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders based on the symptoms and triggers associated with the person’s anxiety. Sadly, these mental health conditions are fairly common across the United States, as nearly 40 million people (18% of the population) experience one of these anxiety conditions each year.[1] Unfortunately, only one-third of the people suffering receive treatment for their condition. Let’s take a deeper look at the different types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common anxiety disorders that is characterized by constant fears and worries that distract a person from living life to it’s fullest. People with GAD may experience persistent and excessive worry about a variety of different things like money, family, work, health, and other issues. Although some worry is normal for everyone, people with GAD have trouble managing their symptoms and are severely affected because of them.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes people to become consumed with unwanted behaviors or thoughts that feel impossible to control. The symptoms range from checking on things repeatedly, having a compulsion to clean, feeling the need to organize things a certain way, or even intrusive thinking that the person feels powerless over. People with OCD are usually aware that their compulsions don’t make sense, but they can’t stop regardless.

Panic Disorder

People who suffer from panic disorder experience recurring panic attacks and a general fear of future panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a sudden onset of feelings of terror or loss of control even when a person isn’t in any real danger. They may even occur without warning at any time. As a result, many people who suffer from panic disorder will avoid public places and isolate in their homes, leading them to develop agoraphobia, the fear of being in an unsafe environment with no easy way to escape.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by a fear of being judged, rejected, or made fun of in public settings. Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is often mistaken for shyness. These individuals may appear visibly anxious or timid and they may even have physical symptoms, such as nausea or sweating. However, some people with this condition will stay away from group gatherings altogether because they feel powerless over their anxiety. This is the second most common anxiety disorder in the United States, as nearly 15 million people suffer from it.[2]

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a severe and extreme form of anxiety disorder that occurs in the aftermath of a life-threatening or traumatic event. Characterized by frequent panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, and a whirlwind of other devastating symptoms, PTSD can severely affect an afflicted individual’s quality of life. PTSD is often seen in sexual or domestic abuse survivors, veterans, police officers, EMTs, and survivors of childhood abuse or neglect.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Although it is completely normal for children to have some issues when first separated from their parents, separation anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms that are excessive for a person’s age or cause extreme distress in day to day functioning. Separation anxiety disorder is most common in children but can be diagnosed in teenagers and adults as well.

Phobias and Fears

A phobia is an exaggerated or irrational fear of something – whether it be an object, situation, or activity – that actually doesn’t put people in harm’s way. These fears cause people significant distress that interferes with their daily life. These specific phobias usually fall into one of the following categories: fear of animals, the environment, blood/injury, situational (i.e. flying, driving), and other fears. People with phobias may also experience panic attacks and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Panic Attacks

As mentioned previously, there is a stark difference between regular anxiety and anxiety disorders. The following signs indicate that a person’s anxiety is something more than a normal reaction.

  • Being constantly worried or tense
  • Feeling fearful of irrational things
  • Believing that something bad is going to happen if something isn’t done in a particular way
  • Avoiding day to day situations because they provoke anxiety
  • Having trouble at work or school because of the symptoms
  • Experiencing sudden or frequent panic attacks

These symptoms can be used to determine whether or not your anxiety is something to worry about. However, there are many physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety as well, including:[3]

  • Feelings of nervousness, restlessness, or tension
  • Impending sense of danger, doom, or panic
  • Increased heart rate and breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Since many of these physical symptoms are so severe, many people who struggle with an anxiety disorder will take prescription medication to help treat their condition.

Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks, are characterized by short episodes of fear or intense panic. They usually strike without warning but rarely last longer than half an hour. Even though panic attacks are short-lived, they are so frightening that people might think they are dying or having a heart attack. Symptoms of panic attacks include:[4]

  • Intense trembling, shaking, and sweating
  • Hot flashes and chills
  • Chest pain, cramping, or tingling sensations
  • Feelings of dissociation or detachment
  • Fear of losing control
  • Racing heartbeat and shortness of breath
  • The tightness of the throat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

If you have begun to avoid situations due to your anxiety or are experiencing panic attacks, it’s time to seek professional help to get your symptoms under control.

Treatment for Anxiety and Anxiety Attacks

Fortunately, anxiety, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks are all easily treatable. Treatment for anxiety usually consists of both self-help techniques and professional counseling.

Self-Help Options

For many people, anxiety is easily treated at home. Simple things like too much stress, too much caffeine, and not enough sleep might provoke anxiety, so if your symptoms aren’t severe, you may be able to manage your anxiety at home. Some simple tips to help you cope with anxiety are:

  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing
  • Get enough exercise easy day
  • Connect with your friends, family, and support group on a regular basis
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Limit your caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule

If these self-help options aren’t helping your symptoms, it’s time to speak with a medical professional. He or she will confirm that your symptoms aren’t being caused by any other underlying health condition and be able to refer you to a specialist.

Professional Mental Health Treatment

All anxiety disorders respond quickly and successfully to therapy. However, some patients require both therapy and medications. Most anxiety disorders are treated using cognitive behavioral therapy to help people identify and change their thought patterns as well as exposure therapy to help people fight their fears in a safe and therapeutic environment.

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder, know that there is help available. With a little education, some intensive therapy, and minor lifestyle changes, you can take back control over your anxiety. To connect with a mental health professional to learn about your treatment options, contact us today.

References:

  1. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety
  2. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021

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Last Edited: December 17, 2019
AUTHOR Jeffrey Juergens About Sources
Clinically Reviewed: July 22, 2019
CLINICAL REVIEWER Theresa Parisi About

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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