According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 18.1% of the US adult population, that is around 40 million adults, suffer from one of the anxiety disorders.
However, the true amount of sufferers, is likely to be much higher than this. It has been estimated that only around one third will receive treatment for anxiety disorders and many do not seek ANY medical advice.
Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment in most cases. So don’t suffer in silence, if your anxiety is getting out of hand you are not alone.
What exactly are Anxiety Disorders?
The blanket term ‘anxiety disorders’ covers a range of symptoms – both emotional and physical – that are both immense and diverse.
How do you know if you are suffering with an anxiety disorder? Furthermore, When does normal worry or unease, or your natural fight-or-flight response to a dangerous situation, cross over into one of the anxiety disorders?
There are six main categorized anxiety disorders, but many of the symptoms often overlap between them so there is not always a very clear cut diagnosis. We will be looking at the main anxiety disorders, their symptoms and treatments in this post.
A Note on Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural response to stress characterized by feelings of fear, apprehension, worry and nervousness.
Usually, sensations of anxiety are experienced both emotionally and physically and to varying degrees. For example, imagine that you are going on a first date. For some, the anxiety would be felt as a mild apprehension and maybe a few butterflies in the stomach.
To more acute anxiety sufferers, the thought could trigger a full blown panic attack with shortness of breath, sweating and an overwhelming sense of impeding doom and fear.
If your anxiety interferes with your daily activities, your work or relationships OR it feels overwhelming or constant then you are probably experiencing an anxiety disorder
The Anxiety Disorders
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Everybody worries about things from time to time, but when constant worrying upsets your everyday life then you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This anxiety disorder gad is characterized by what is generally known as free-floating anxiety.
Unlike phobias, whereby the fear and anxiety is associated with a specific trigger, such as seeing a spider or a snake, generalized anxiety focuses itself on anything and everything.
The anxiety and worry is related to the constant fear that something bad might happen. Negative thoughts vary according to the individual, but usually involve fantasies of a doomed future, either on a personal or global level.
Physical Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the more known mental health issues particularly in relation to repetitive hand washing, but this anxiety disorder can take many forms.
Firstly, to truly understand the complexity of OCD it must be understood that it is a sort of ‘magical’ type of thinking.
In childhood, a lot of us will have avoided standing on the cracks in the pavements, just for fun. However, if standing on the cracks in the pavements is related to something bad happening then this is crossing the line into the world of OCD.
Anxiety and OCD
There is intense anxiety with OCD that takes the form of obsessive, intrusive thoughts, that play over and over in the mind. These thoughts are often related to contamination, checking, performing tasks to perfection, arranging or counting objects or even harming others.
Following these overwhelming fearful thoughts is the compulsion, or the repetitive actions, which must be taken to avoid the fearful outcome.
So, for example, if an OCD sufferer fears germs and disease – that is the obsessive thought (or anxiety) and is followed by the compulsive, ritual of hand washing or cleaning to alleviate the anxiety.
Likewise, some OCD sufferers often have obsessive thoughts about hurting loved ones. The compulsive behaviours surrounding these thoughts will be to remove any objects or means of doing so.
3. Anxiety Attacks or Panic Disorder
Those who suffer with panic attacks will often experience some of the symptoms of generalized anxiety too. However, when an anxiety attack occurs, the feelings of intense fear, overwhelming panic and sense of impeding doom can happen at any time.
The fight-flight response seems to be heightened in people who suffer from anxiety attacks and is triggered seemingly out of nowhere. The irrational fear of experiencing another panic attack to sufferers may lead to avoidance of certain places and situations.
Most of us have experienced the sensations of a phobia at some time or another. You go for a nice, long, hot bath … and there it is … A HUGE spider! If you fear spiders, you run from the bathroom, screaming and sweating. Nervously, you return, determined not to let the fear overcome you. You argue with yourself, ‘It is tiny compared to me’ ‘It is not dangerous’. In desperation, you throw a sock at the hairy creature, it runs … very quickly and you bolt from the bathroom again, heart pounding and legs like jelly to enlist help. The anticipated relaxing soak is replaced with high anxiety and nightmares for weeks to come.
Types of Phobias
Humans are programmed to fear certain dangerous animals such as snakes and spiders. However, for people with a specific phobia, this fear becomes exaggerated and really pronounced.
The phobic person life may become planned around avoiding the feared object, animal or activity. Sometimes just an image or thought of the feared object is enough to provoke symptoms.
The fear of exposure can become debilitating. This is the point when a phobia is diagnosed.
There are at least 530 documented phobias.
There are common phobias such as:-
- Snakes, spiders, rats and other animals
- Fear of heights, fear of germs, fear of flying, fear of the dentist
- Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), fear of death, fear of clowns
…and there are more unusual phobias such as fear of:-
- The navel
- A colour
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This anxiety disorder is brought on by witnessing or being part of a traumatic event. The event that triggers post-traumatic stress disorder can be anything that is severe enough to deeply traumatize the sufferer.
The trauma can vary from rape and abuse to road accidents and natural disasters. However, any event that is overwhelming and triggers feelings of helplessness could trigger PTSD.
This mental illness became well known through war veterans experiencing a set of similar symptoms following military combat. The American Psychiatric Association formally recognised post-traumatic stress disorder ptsd as a mental illness in 1980.
6. Social anxiety Disorder
For most of us, the thought of having to give a public speech, whether it be a work presentation or the dreaded ‘best man’s speech’ fills us with dread and worries. Such as:-
For those with social anxiety disorder (sometimes known as social phobia) these thoughts are overwhelming. Intense fear of a social situation, including the apprehension and anticipation of it, can lead to a full blown anxiety attack.
For those with a social phobia, even if they manage to attend a dreaded event the experience is often ruined.
The extreme anxiety and distress caused by the underlying acute self-consciousness and fear of being criticized or judged by others ensures a negative experience.
This in turn, leads to heightened apprehension and anxiety at the thought of a similar social situation.
Situations that may cause Anxiety
Treatments for Anxiety Disorders
Because the nature of anxiety disorders is very complex and the range of problems diverse, there is not always a ‘one cure fits all’.
If your anxiety or disorder is mild there are quite a few natural treatments that will significantly curb symptoms.
You should always contact your physician or a mental health professional before deciding on which treatment is best for you.
There are many types of talking therapies and anxiety disorders can be greatly improved in a short period of time with a professional psychotherapist.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy: Medical studies have shown this type of therapy to be especially effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Cognitive-behavioural therapy changes the way we think about events and the associated feelings. The end aim of cognitive-behavioral therapy cbt is that once the thoughts and feelings have been changed about a situation a behavioural change will follow.
- Solution-Focused Therapy: This therapy also focuses on behavioural changes to help anxiety disorders. This is a very client-based, goal-orientated therapy. Solution-focused therapy situations are organized around a set of questions.
- Exposure therapy: Traditionally used for phobias this type of therapy gradually ‘exposes’ you to your trigger or fear in a safe controlled environment. Eventually, the sufferer will become de-sensitized to the feared object.
- Psychoanalysis: This type of therapy focuses on a person’s past and subconscious thoughts in relation to their current problem. The aim is to uncover and address the underlying ‘root’ of the anxiety.
If you have tried other methods of treatment for your anxiety disorder and nothing has helped then you may consider anti-anxiety medication.
The anti-anxiety drug does carry the risks of long and short term side effects, but if you have been suffering from an acute stress disorder you may decide this is the right option for you.
Recent Posts on Anxiety
- Full Index of ALL our Anxiety Posts
- Anxiety or Panic Attacks: A more detailed look at panic attacks, what they are and what you can do to stop them.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD: A look at this distressing and debilitating anxiety disorder. Discover the truth behind OCD.
- GAD Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Free floating anxiety? No rest from the worries and anxiety about anything and everything? This post is for you.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Also called social phobia. All the latest research on all aspects of this disorder.
- Bipolar Disorder: Separating the facts from the fiction.
- Specific Phobias, social phobia and agarophobia.
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- Bystritsky B, Khalsa SS, Cameron ME, Schiffman J. (2013) Current Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders P T. 2013 Jan; 38(1): 30-38, 41-44, 57 (Retrieved August 12th 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23599668
- Pull CB, Damsa C. (2008) Pharmacotherapy of panic disorder Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008 Aug; 4(4): 779–795. (Retrieved August 19th 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2536545/