You hear people saying that they have anxiety or that they are nervous. Does that mean they have an anxiety disorder? No way! The type of anxiety people who have anxiety disorders live with every day takes over their lives. It’s disabling. No matter where you go or what you do, there is no escape from it. Your mind battles with it day and night, and it continues to grow over time until it interferes with all the activities of your life—your job, school, your relationships, everything. The anxiety so consumes you that you can’t eat, breathe, sleep, open, or close your eyes without knowing it’s there, feeling its presence and its weight crushing your very being. It consumes you.
Anxiety Symptoms Common to All
Often people who have anxiety disorders have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feels restless, irritable, tense, wound-up, on edge
- Easily tired, significant muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating; mind goes blank easily
- Difficulty controlling feelings or thoughts about things that worry them
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
Description of Some of the More Common Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) worry about everything. They display anxiety symptoms daily for at least six months without relief, worrying about their health or family, job, home, the economy, the dog down the street, or if the sound they heard was a burglar. Worry and anxiety control their every waking moment preventing them from enjoying life and sleeping at night. As a result, relationships suffer, work performance declines, health deteriorates, and their will to live becomes less each day.
Panic Attacks occur suddenly without warning. People plagued with panic attacks live in fear that an attack will hit them at an inopportune moment when they cannot manage both the attack and what is happening in their lives. Therefore, many avoid places, situations, and behaviors they feel might trigger an attack. Unfortunately, the more they worry about triggers, the more they generate anxiety.
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
- Intense fear that peaks within minutes
- Heart palpitations, a pounding or racing heart rate,
- Sweating, trembling, or shaking,
- Shortness of breath or feeling like they can’t take a breath,
- Feelings of impending doom and that everything around them is totally out of control.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an intense need for structure and control. The individual has a compulsion (irresistible urge to behave in a certain way) or obsession (an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind) that dominates their life. The need to follow through on the compulsion or obsession is so strong that not doing it creates a severe depression or anxiety reaction. Therefore, the person MUST follow through with the obsession or feel severe anxiety. Once they complete the action, the anxiety leaves until the trigger for the reaction occurs again.
Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
People with OCD usually have both obsessions and compulsions but may have only one or the other. The symptoms are so severe they interfere with all aspects of life, including but not limited to work, school, and personal relationships.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Individuals who experience traumatic events such as war, abuse, assault, disasters, accidents, and sudden death are at risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While most people tend to experience symptoms within three months of a traumatic event, PTSD can hit many years later.
Symptoms of PTSD include
- Re-experiencing the trauma in dreams and thoughts, including physical symptoms like racing heart rates, sweating, panic attacks.
- Avoiding places near the trauma area, being around people involved or associated with the event.
- Refusing to talk about what happened.
- Feeling jumpy, being easily startled and on edge, having difficulty sleeping, having angry outbursts.
- Holding onto negative feelings about themselves and the world.
- Experiencing distorted feelings of guilt or blame.
- Losing any interest in participating in pleasurable activities.
A phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object. They worry excessively about encountering this situation to such an extreme that it affects all aspects of their life. If they are unfortunate enough to encounter the situation, they experience immediate, intense anxiety and will take steps to avoid the feared object or situation.
There are several types of phobias and phobia-related disorders. For example, some common phobias include fear of flying, heights, animals (snakes, spiders, dogs, etc.), shots, blood, etc.
Adults and children may be affected by Separation Anxiety Disorder. People with separation anxiety disorder have fears about being parted from people to whom they are attached. They worry that some harm or something untoward might happen if they become separated from their special person. This fear leads to separation avoidance, including avoiding being alone. In addition, people with separation anxiety may have nightmares about being separated from attachment figures or experience physical symptoms with anticipated or actual separation.
Impulse Control and Addiction Disorders
People with impulse control disorders cannot resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drug are common objects of addiction. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their obsession that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.
Stress response syndromes (formerly called adjustment disorders)
Stress response syndromes occur when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a stressful event or situation. The stressors may include natural disasters, such as an earthquake or tornado; events or crises, such as a car accident or the diagnosis of a major illness; or interpersonal problems, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or a problem with substance abuse. Stress response syndromes usually begin within three months of the event or situation and end six months after the stressor stops.
People with tic disorders make sounds or display non-purposeful body movements repetitively, quickly, suddenly, or uncontrollably. (Vocal tics are sounds made involuntarily) Tourette’s syndrome is an example of a tic disorder.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?
While medication and psychotherapy are both used to treat anxiety disorders, psychotherapy seems to provide the best outcomes.
Exposure therapy (desensitization), combined with relaxation and imagery, works for phobias, panic attacks, and other anxiety disorders. It teaches the individual how to face their anxiety by slowly facing their fear head-on. Each session, the person gets slightly closer to their fear trigger, learning how to deal with the anxiety produced and then moving on to the next step closer.
Cognitive therapy teaches the individual to face their anxiety by thinking about, behaving, and reacting to the object generating fear using coping skills.