In some people, anxiety can become an all-consuming problem. It can escalate to a degree that is beyond what is considered normal. When this happens, anxiety may begin to take a toll on the individual’s daily life and interactions, becoming persistent and difficult to control.
This is the basis of anxiety disorders, of which there are several different types. These disorders are all forms of mental illness that affect as many as 40 million Americans annually, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. They also note that more women, roughly 60 percent, are affected by anxiety disorders than men. Despite continued research, it is still unknown what exactly causes these disorders. Researchers believe, however, that environmental stress and changes in the brain may combine to create this problem in some. Because there may be an increased risk when other family members suffer from an anxiety disorder, it is also believed by some researchers that it may be the result of inherited traits.
As noted, there are different types of anxiety disorders. In addition, people are not always affected by a single anxiety disorder. In fact, a person can be affected by more than one. The different types include social anxiety disorder or phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. A person who is affected by this disorder suffers from an extreme and overwhelming fear of any social setting or situation. The anxiety often centers around a fear of embarrassment, criticism, or otherwise being closely scrutinized by a large group of people. When a person worries chronically and is routinely overcome with nervousness and/or tension, these are signs of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). With this disorder, the chronic worry and anxiety is not associated with one single situation or thing but is general in nature. PTSD, which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that occurs following a traumatic event such as a personal attack, a very bad accident, or military combat, for example. This disorder causes the sufferer to relive the traumatic event repeatedly either in sleep or with flashbacks that can occur at various times. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer repeatedly obsesses over things, such as cleanliness, for example, and compulsively performs rituals in order to control their anxiety. Panic disorders are episodes in which a person experiences panic attacks. These attacks often leave people feeling as if they have lost control or as if they are doomed. A final type of anxiety disorder is known as specific phobia. This type of disorder is defined as a fear of things that should not be feared and are generally not feared by most. This can be a fear of water, tunnels, blood, etc.
As there are different types of anxiety disorders, the signs and symptoms are naturally widely varied and can manifest differently from one person to another. They all share a common sign, however, in the form of anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety can manifest emotionally and include fear, worry or dread, restlessness, or difficulty concentrating. Anxiety also manifests in physical symptoms such as fatigue, headache, a pounding heart, tension in muscles, insomnia, difficulty breathing, and sweating.
In order to properly treat anxiety disorders, they must be accurately diagnosed. The process to diagnose these conditions involves a review of one’s history, both personal and medical, and a physical exam. During this process, the individual must be honest and open about symptoms, other conditions or habits, or changes in their condition. This includes revealing any substance abuse, caffeine use (particularly if it is excessive), and traumatic or extremely stressful events or changes. Doctors use this information to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms. In addition to the questions and examination, one’s doctor will also perform screening tests. Examples of these tests are the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale, and the Social Phobia Inventory. In general, many anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. The specific therapy and medication are dependent on the type of anxiety disorder that is being treated and any past attempts at treatment that the individual may have undergone. Potential medications include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, or beta-blockers. Therapy includes cognitive behavioral therapy or behavioral therapy and may be performed individually or as a part of a group, depending on the condition and the person.
An anxiety disorder is a potentially disabling mental health condition that can be difficult for most people to understand. It is often confused with simple stress or anxiety, but it is so much more. Because the disorder has the ability to affect one’s day-to-day actions, it is important for families and loved ones to understand what it is. It is equally important for people to understand that there is more than just one type and that help is often possible.
To better understand anxiety disorders, visit the following links:
- Mental Health Information: What is Anxiety Disorder
- Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center: Anxiety Disorder
- Diseases & Conditions: Anxiety
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- What is PTSD?
- What are the Different Types of Anxiety Disorders?
- Twelve Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder
- Anxiety Symptoms
- Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders (PDF)
- Anxiety Disorders – Risk Factors and Diagnosis
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Types of Anxiety Disorders
- Examples of Anxiety Disorders (PDF)