Anxiety disorders can serious mental illnesses characterized by persistent worry or fear. They may also worsen over time. We all experience anxiety from time to time, but anxiety disorders are more persistent and hurt our quality of life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 19.1% of adult Americans have an anxiety disorder. Women are more susceptible to anxiety. Experts recommend that women over 13 years old be screened as part of their routine medical care. 2
Types of anxiety disorders
There are many types of anxiety disorders. Each anxiety disorder has its own set of symptoms, characteristics, and diagnostic criteria.
Agoraphobia refers to an extreme and irrational fear of being trapped in a situation without escape. Many people fear experiencing panic symptoms or other symptoms while in public. This leads them to avoid situations where they might feel helpless or trapped.
This avoidance behavior can be life-threatening, causing many people to avoid driving in public, shopping, flying, and other situations. This fear can be so intense that some people cannot leave their homes.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about various events and activities. This anxiety is hard to control and often changes from one worry to another.
GAD is when people feel anxious about daily life, news events, relationships, or possible events.
Panic disorder is characterized by intense panic attacks which occur without warning. Physical and emotional symptoms, such as increased breathing, rapid heartbeat, and extreme fear, characterize panic attacks.
Selective Mutism occurs in childhood. This anxiety disorder is characterized by feelings of embarrassment or fear, which prevent children from speaking at certain times, like in school or when they are around strangers.
Selective Mutism is most common between two and four years old. It can be accompanied by fidgeting, lack of eye contact, and a lack of expression when the child faces a fearful situation.
Social Anxiety Disorder
A social anxiety disorder (formerly known as social phobia) is a fearful reaction to social situations. This fear can be centered on a specific event, like public speaking, but it may also involve a generalized fear.
This condition causes people to feel that others are constantly watching them. People with this condition may have high self-criticism and show physical and emotional signs of anxiety in social situations.
These symptoms include dread, a racing heartbeat, nausea, and shaking. People avoid social situations when they experience these symptoms.
Intense fear of a particular object or situation characterizes Specific Phobias. The fear is excessive, irrational, and disproportionate to the threat. Specific phobias can cause immediate symptoms, such as shaking, sweating, crying, and rapid heartbeat.
People with a phobia can go to great lengths, as with other anxiety disorders, to avoid their source of fear. Avoidance Behaviors like this can increase stress and limit your daily activities.
OCD and PTSD are anxiety disorders.
, the fifth edition of “Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” which is used by healthcare providers to diagnose mental disorders, breaks down what is generally considered anxiety disorders into 3 categories:
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder and related disorders
- Trauma and stress-related disorders
This differentiation shows the distinct differences between disorders, even though they have some similarities and are related. The classifications are still in use in the latest edition of the DSM-5, the Diagnostic Manual.
OCD and PTSD, while no longer classified as anxiety disorders by the official classification system, share many characteristics. Anxiety symptoms are also common in both conditions.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts (compulsions) and behavior. OCD was a form of anxiety disorder before the DSM-5. This is because obsessions cause significant anxiety in many people.
Obsessions can centered around things like a fear of germs, the need to keep things in order, or even disturbing thoughts on taboo subjects. People often perform compulsions to alleviate the anxiety brought on by their obsessive thinking. Compulsions can include actions like counting, ordering, or checking.
Body dysmorphic disorder is also included in the “OCD and Related Disorders.” Hoarding disorder and Trichotillomania are other conditions related to OCD.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after a traumatic experience. Symptoms include changes in mood, arousal, and reactivity. Trauma can cause intrusive memories, thoughts, and nightmares. Other common symptoms include flashbacks, hypervigilance, and anxiety.
The DSM group adjustment disorders and reactive Attachment disorder also include other trauma- and stressor-related disorders.
There are many types of anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorder, selective Mutism, social phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. Anxiety symptoms are also present in other conditions, such as OCD, PTSD, and others.
Do you have normal anxiety or a disorder?
Anxiety Disorder symptoms
Various symptoms characterize anxiety disorders, and no two people have the same experience. Each disorder also tends to present with different symptoms. Symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Dry Mouth
- Unease, anxiety, worry, and feelings of panic are all common.
- Muscle Tightness
- Heartbeats that are rapid or irregular
- Hands and feet that are sweaty or cold
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- Unable to calm down or remain still
You should take action if you feel any of the following physical or psychological symptoms of anxiety and fear, such as sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath.
Can anxiety kill you?
This “flight or Fight” reaction activates the physical and mental resources needed to cope with the danger. This system is generally effective, but it can sometimes go into overdrive. It can do more harm than benefit. This could indicate that you suffer from an anxiety disorder.
The majority of people will experience anxiety at some point. Normal anxiety is different from anxiety disorders in terms of the level of distress and your ability to function normally.
Anxiety disorders affect millions of Americans, including children and teenagers. No one is sure exactly what causes anxiety disorder, but genetics, the environment, stress levels, brain changes, and trauma could all be factors.
Researchers continue to learn more about the links between anxiety and depression. Combinations of factors are likely to be involved in anxiety disorders. Some of the factors implicated are:
- Brain Chemistry: Severe or prolonged stress can cause changes in chemical balances in the brain. These changes may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.
- Stressful or traumatic experiences can also cause feelings of anxiety.
- Family History: If you have close relatives who suffer from anxiety disorders, the likelihood that you will develop anxiety is increased.
- Genetic Factors: Some genes can increase the likelihood that a person will develop an anxiety disorder.
- Medical Conditions: Certain underlying medical conditions can cause anxiety. These include chronic pain and heart disease. They also include thyroid disorders, respiratory problems, diabetes, and other medical conditions.
- Personality. People with certain personality traits, such as Introversion or Neuroticism, may experience higher anxiety levels.
A doctor can refer you to an expert in mental health, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, who will ask you specific questions and use diagnostic tools to determine your type of disorder.
To determine if there is a disorder, a doctor or mental health professional may ask you questions and use assessment instruments. They want to know your symptoms, how long they have lasted, and how severe they can be. They will also want to know how your symptoms affect your daily functioning.
The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” is used by healthcare practitioners to diagnose these conditions. The DSM contains a list of specific symptoms that must be met by a patient to be diagnosed.
Guide to Discussing Generalized Anxiety Disorder
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Treatment options for anxiety disorders are varied. A mental health specialist can help you determine the best treatment.
Psychotherapy helps people manage anxiety’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy particularly effective for anxiety disorders. This approach is aimed at helping people to identify automatic negative thoughts and cognitive thinking distortions contributing to anxiety.
Exposition therapy can also be useful for certain types of anxiety. This approach involves gradually exposing people to things they fear while using relaxation techniques to calm the body’s response to stress.
CBT effectively treats anxiety disorders such as social and generalized anxiety disorders. CBT can be beneficial for anxiety associated with OCD or PTSD. 7
Some medications may also be prescribed for anxiety symptoms. Some of the most common medications prescribed for anxiety are:
- Antidepressants can alter certain neurotransmitter levels in the brain to relieve anxiety symptoms.
- Benzodiazepines work quickly and are commonly used as a treatment for the short-term.
- Beta-blockers can help reduce some physical symptoms of anxiety.
Coping Strategies focus on more effective ways to manage anxiety. Some lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep, limiting caffeine consumption, and exercising regularly, may help.
Exercise significantly reduces anxiety symptoms, suggesting it could help prevent or treat them. 8
Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, Yoga, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation are also beneficial when managing anxiety.
Many treatment options for anxiety disorders can help you lead a full life. It may take time for your doctor and you to discover the right treatment options. Keep communication open and be patient with your mental health professional to find the best plan for you.