What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental disorders. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, or uneasy during situations in which most people would not experience these same feelings. There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with their own distinct features. These include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anxiety disorders affect about 20 percent of the population at any given time.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
When persistent and unrealistic worry becomes a normal way of approaching situations, an individual may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Many individuals with this disorder constantly anticipate disaster and often worry excessively about health, money, family or work. Experts believe GAD is caused by a combination of biological factors and life events.
Symptoms of GAD
- Worry very much about everyday things for a least 6 months, even if there is little or no reason to worry
- Can’t control constant worries, so burdensome they interfere with daily activities
- Can’t relax, know they worry too much
- Have a hard time concentrating
- Have trouble falling and staying asleep
- Nausea, headaches, muscle tension
Panic Disorder strikes between three and six million Americans. Individuals with panic disorder have sudden and repeated feelings of terror known as panic attacks. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control. These attacks came occur at any time and usually last a few minutes. A fear of one’s own
unexplained physical symptoms is also a sign of panic disorder. People having panic attacks sometimes think they are having heart attacks, losing their minds, or dying. These attacks can occur any time and usually peak within minutes.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- A pounding heart
- Nausea or stomach problems
- Chest pains
- Lightheaded or dizzy
- Chills or sweating
- Shortness of breath or a feeling of choking
- Shaking or trembling
- Feelings of unreality
- Fear of dying
- Feeling out of control or going crazy
- Diminished capacity for pleasure or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, failure and lack of self-worth
- Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying
- Changes in eating, sleeping or other daily habits
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions
- Social withdrawal
- Unexplained aches or pains
- Increased feelings of worry or anxiety
- Thoughts of death or suicide attempts
- Sleeping too much, or can’t sleep
- Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue
Unreasonable and involuntary fears – Individuals experience extreme anxiety and panic when exposed to certain objects or situations that they logically know are not dangerous. Phobias are thought to be caused by a combination of biological factors and life events. There are three types of phobias: specific phobia, social phobia and agoraphobia.
- Specific Phobia – Intense, irrational fears of certain things or situations such as dogs, heights, elevators, water, driving, flying, etc.
- Social Phobia – Also called social anxiety disorder, is an intense fear of social situations that leads to difficulties with personal relationships at work or in school. Individuals often have an irrational fear of being humiliated for “saying something stupid,” or “not knowing what to say.”
- Agoraphobia – Often accompanies panic disorder, is a fear of being in any situation that might provoke a panic attack, or from which escape might be difficult.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Characterized by repetitive, intrusive, irrational and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). Some people with OCD have specific compulsions (e.g., counting, arranging, cleaning) that they “must perform” multiple times each day to momentarily release their anxiety that something bad might happen to themselves or to someone they love.
Typical obsessions include the following:
- Fear of germ contamination or radiation
- Fear of hitting someone with a car
- Fear of burning the house down
- Fear a family member will die
- Fear of harming others or violating social norms by with unacceptable behavior
Some common compulsions are as follows:
- Excessive personal or house cleaning
- Developing a time-consuming ritual of making sure, over and over, that something has been done
- Compulsively repeating a phase or name to protect the person from harm
- Going through an exacting series of maneuvers until they are done perfectly
Getting Help for Anxiety Disorder
If you, or someone you know, has symptoms of anxiety, visiting a family physician is usually the best place to start. A physician can help determine if the symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, other medical condition or both. Most often, the next step for an anxiety disorder is referral to a mental health professional.