The Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
And How To Cope With Them
Anxiety. Could there be a more difficult state to sit through? With its electric energy buzzing through your body, or rapid shallow breathing, or a sense of needing to escape without a destination – is it any wonder that its anagram is “any exit”?
But not all anxiety is bad. Sometimes, it is a proportionate and appropriate reaction to a situation that needs you to be on high alert. It’s only when anxiety becomes a frequent reaction to regular, or even somewhat stressful, daily activities that there is cause for further examination. If anxiety is a theme in your life, then you’ll want to find healthy ways of dealing with it so it does not control you.
One thing you can do right now is to learn. Learn what anxiety is and isn’t, what the different types are, and what treatments are out there. Armed with this understanding, you have a much better chance at improving the quality of your life.
First of all, there is a big difference between having some anxiety and having an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can be a temporary state that is caused by an event in your life, such as financial uncertainty, or as a result of another issue, such as a physical illness. Anxiety can also be a disorder of its own, or a co-morbid disorder with another mental health issue, such as depression.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, one thing to understand is that you’re not alone. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the US. And the good news is that they are very responsive to treatment. If you’re not sure if you have an anxiety disorder, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor about it.
Causes and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Different anxiety disorders can have different causes and different triggers. A cause is a factor that contributes to the development of the disorder, while a trigger is an event or object that provokes or magnifies the symptoms.
There are a few risk factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, such as brain chemistry, genetics, childhood experiences, personality, and the exposure to traumatic events. Triggers can vary widely.
Although symptoms will differ from disorder to disorder, there are many symptoms that are common to most types of anxiety:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling on edge or “wired”
- Going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep-onset insomnia
- Sleep-maintenance insomnia
- Shallow or unsatisfying sleep
- Appetite disturbance
Many of these symptoms can produce disturbances in general health when their effects accumulate over time, and these symptoms can also add to the anxiety itself, worsening the condition. This could be part of the reason why those with anxiety disorders are six times more likely to get hospitalized for a psychiatric issue.
People with anxiety disorders are prone to alcohol and drug abuse, using these substances to try to calm their fears or help them cope. But ultimately, substance abuse always worsens the anxiety, as well as their overall health and wellbeing.
Being afraid or nervous about specific things or situations is common, but it is not the same thing as phobia. With phobias, the fear is intense and can last a long time, and it is not relieved by reasoning or logic. Also, the object of the fear doesn’t usually pose real danger, or even if dangerous, is not likely to occur.
As an example, let’s take the fear of sharks. While it is natural to fear sharks, there is a difference between having a passing thought about it while at the beach and not being able to set foot in the water even though you know that shark attacks are extremely rare.
Common phobias include those about specific animals, the fear of heights, flying, open spaces, crowds, driving, clowns, water, medical examinations, injections, loud sounds, and the dark. Specific phobias are the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder in America.
Closely related with specific phobias, yet meriting its own section, is agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is the fear of finding yourself in a situation or place where you would not be able to get away easily or without embarrassment, and where you feel you may end up panicking and not getting the help you need.
For this to be considered a disorder, it needs to have lasted six months or longer. It may also involve avoidance behaviors, such as not going out at all or always needing someone with you when you do.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Coming in a close second to specific phobias, social anxiety disorder is another very common anxiety disorder. Although everyone gets a little nervous when meeting people, with social anxiety disorder, formerly called social phobia, the fear can be so debilitating that it can prevent you from having a fulfilling social life with friends, family or coworkers.
Human beings are social creatures, and connection is one of our most basic needs. Not being able to get that need met due to social anxiety can cause a lot of pain, yet the intense fear of being rejected, judged, or finding yourself in awkward social situations will frequently override that pain and need.
It’s important to know that shyness is not the same thing as social anxiety. With social anxiety disorder, you can experience symptoms such as nausea, blushing, faster heart rate, not being able to get words out, sweating and even full-on panic attacks.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
You hear about PTSD developing in veterans once they return home. But PTSD is also common among those who have experienced other types of trauma, especially sexual abuse and rape. In fact, one of the biggest risk factors for PTSD in adulthood is whether one has experienced sexual abuse during childhood.
Other types of trauma include things like natural disasters, physical violence, serious accidents, sudden death of a loved one, or the witnessing of a violent crime. Recent studies are looking into the possibility that PTSD can also develop from subtler forms of trauma, such as emotional abuse in relationships, when repeated over long periods of time.
In general, those who have been exposed to violence are more likely to develop PTSD than those who have been exposed to natural disasters, and those who have been exposed to trauma repeatedly are more likely to develop PTSD than those who experienced it once. For these reasons, PTSD is very common among war veterans. However, in the general population, women are twice as likely to develop it.
Flashbacks are the hallmark of PTSD. This is when you re-experience the traumatic event in your mind as if it is actually happening now. For example, a war veteran may hear a loud noise and suddenly be transported back in time to a battle he or she was part of and then suddenly find him-or-herself taking cover.
Other symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, intrusive thoughts and memories, getting triggered by otherwise mundane situations or events (like the telephone ringing), as well as the array of common anxiety symptoms we already spoke of.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A favorite to portray in movies, often with a comic twist, OCD is an anxiety disorder that should be taken seriously. First of all, like other anxiety disorders, it is much more likely to develop in those who have gone through abuse, physical or sexual, in childhood, or some other traumatic event.
Secondly, if left untreated, it can interfere with every aspect of you life, making it very difficult to hold jobs, have satisfying relationships, or do things you would really like to do.
OCD has two components: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are usually thoughts or urges that keep repeating and cause a feeling of anxiety. They could be thoughts about germs, aggression, sex, religion, illness, or the need for symmetry. Compulsions are the behaviors someone with OCD repeats, often in response to the obsessive thoughts. They could include repetitive cleaning, counting, locking the door, checking things, and rearranging things.
Everyone experiences obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors from time to time, but if you have OCD, it means that these things become excessive, out of control, and take up a lot of time (at least an hour a day). And engaging in compulsive behavior only brings you temporary relief from the anxiety, which then returns quickly afterwards.
Generally, OCD is spotted in children and teens by parents and teachers, though it can have a later onset. Some people with OCD can also have a tic, such as blinking, sudden movements, or throat clearing.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
As the name suggests, if you have separation anxiety you tend to feel a lot of anxiety when someone you are attached to is not in proximity, even if it’s for a short while. The main marker for this disorder is that the fear and anxiety is more intense and lasts longer that what is appropriate, and it can interfere with normal functioning. This disorder could show up also as a consuming fear of losing the person you’re attached to.
Though it may sound like an issue that only affects very young children, adults also experience it and it can last six months or more.
The dreaded panic attack – one of the most difficult and debilitating experiences you can go through. It can be so severe and so terrifying that some people feel as though they are having a heart attack or are about to die. People with panic disorder experience repeated panic attacks, along with the usual symptoms of heart palpitations, dizziness, breathlessness, chest pain, and sweating.
Other common symptoms include:
- Pounding heart
- Choking or smothering feeling
- Impending doom
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal pain
In fact, to be diagnosed with a panic disorder, you have to experience at least four of these symptoms in a panic attack. You might also find yourself crying or screaming during an episode. Some people do end up going to the emergency room, fearing they are dying or going crazy, and after medical checks come back negative for serious illnesses, they are told they just had a panic attack.
Panic disorder is twice as common in women than men, and most sufferers worry about getting panic attacks in difficult situations, such as out in public, and develop avoidance behaviors.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Some people have a type of anxiety that doesn’t seem to have a specific trigger and is not directed at a specific object or situation. This is why it is called “generalized.” Though the anxiety in GAD can sometimes peak in intensity, it is not usually as severe as a panic disorder, though some people can have both disorders.
GAD is usually an ongoing experience of anxiety symptoms, such as those already listed above, and it can fluctuate from being a barely perceptible background restlessness to a full-blown panic attack.
Once you have determined that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder and that it is not caused by a physical issue that needs its own treatment, you then have two treatment options.
The first is psychotherapy, where you have regular meetings with a therapist and talk about your thoughts and feelings, and learn coping strategies. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) one of the most effective methods to change your thinking, reactions and behaviors so that you can control your anxiety levels.
Medications can help reduce or relieve symptoms, but most anti-anxiety medications are prescribed for short periods of time as you can develop physical dependency on them. Anti-depressants are helpful for those with a co-occurring depression. And finally, medications for the relief of physical symptoms of anxiety disorders can also be used.
As part of your treatment plan, you may use techniques that involve stress management, relaxation, meditation, and support groups, as well as making changes in diet and exercise. Also, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can really help.
Just remember, anxiety disorders are very treatable, and many people affected by them are living satisfying lives using simple coping strategies and getting the support and treatment they need.
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