What are anxiety disorders?
In many situations, anxiety is a normal, healthy feeling that can actually be helpful. It makes us alert, aware, and provides motivation. Uncontrollable anxiety, however, is a serious and often debilitating disorder that can cause sufferers to feel overly anxious for no apparent reason. Anxiety disorders are different from regular feelings of anxiety and nervousness that are normally felt in anticipation of big or important events.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, and social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by an intense worry over relatively small things that can interfere with daily life. Similarly, social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of social situations, in which those who suffer from it are worried about being judged or embarrassed. Panic disorder is characterized by the presence of panic attacks, that can make the sufferer feel like they are in danger even if they are not. These attacks can happen at any time, in any place, and can range from lasting a few minutes to a few hours. People who suffer from specific phobias exhibit an intense, irrational fear of certain situations or objects. Though sufferers will often recognize that their fears are unfounded, they can go to great lengths to avoid these certain situations or objects. Obsessive compulsive disorder is characterized by sets of symptoms known as either obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are recurring, unwanted, or obtrusive thoughts that cause anxiety and often unwarranted fear. Compulsions are behaviors that a person feels they must perform in order to alleviate fear caused by the obsessive thoughts.
Anxiety disorders affect about 18% of adults in the U.S., and are highly treatable through therapy, support, and medication.
What are signs/symptoms of anxiety disorders?
The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of the different anxiety disorders as:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Persistent, irrational fears
- Difficulty relaxing or calming themselves
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Physical symptoms
- Muscle tension
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty swallowing
- Frequent trips to the bathroom
- Hot flashes
- Social Anxiety
- Be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
- Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
- Be very afraid that other people will judge them
- Worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
- Stay away from places where there are other people
- Have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
- Blush, sweat, or tremble around other people
- Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach when with other people
- Panic Disorder
- Sudden and repeated attacks of fear
- A feeling of being out of control during a panic attack
- An intense worry about when the next attack will happen
- A fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
- Physical symptoms during an attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, or stomach pain
- Specific Phobia
- Avoidance of specific object or situation
- Panic and fear
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- A strong desire to get away
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Have repeated thoughts or images about many different things, such as fear of germs, dirt, or intruders; acts of violence; hurting loved ones; sexual acts; conflicts with religious beliefs; or being overly tidy
- Performing the same rituals over and over such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, counting, keeping unneeded items, or repeating the same steps again and again
- Can't control the unwanted thoughts and behaviors
- Don't get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but get brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
- Spend at least 1 hour a day on the thoughts and rituals, which cause distress and get in the way of daily life
What are the risk factors for anxiety disorders?
- Family history of anxiety
- Experiencing a traumatic event
- Having a serious illness
- Drug or alcohol use
What are treatment options for anxiety disorders?
Though treatment for anxiety mainly depends on the type of disorder, therapy and medication are two of the more commonly prescribed treatments. Medication does not cure anxiety, but helps to manage symptoms while a person participates in therapy. Therapy typically consists of cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which effective coping strategies and stress management techniques are identified.