Anxiety is a normal reaction of our nervous system to various challenging situations, like getting married, preparing for job interviews, taking important exams, etc. But if your uncertainties and worries affect your lifestyle and make you feel miserable, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder which can manifest in various symptoms, including an anxiety attack, as well as lead to different mental conditions, especially various phobias. That’s why it is essential to identify and eliminate the source of anxiety in time. However, not everyone who experiences anxiety has a psychological disorder. Read on to learn what is anxiety, how to discern anxiety disorder, as well as what are the main types of anxiety disorders.
About Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorder is a general term used to define irrational and seemingly unexplained uncertainties and fears of particular situations and objects which is manifested in the form of a physically and/or mentally inadequate response. This disorder often occurs in people with other mental issues, such as depression, mood fluctuations, alcohol, and drug addiction. Although many sources claim that anxiety disorder is a genetic disease, there is no reliable medical evidence to prove this theory. However, recent studies in biochemistry have shown that anxiety may have biological components (brain chemistry make-up, for instance). Anxiety may also have links to various health issues, but it mainly stems from the person’s psyche, thoughts, and attitudes.
About Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks are acute episodes of extreme emotional and mental panic which is usually focused around an exaggerated fear. Anxiety attacks may occur out of the blue without any obvious reason. However, in many cases, there can be an apparent trigger (thinking about a coming exam, wedding, or being stuck in a dark room, for instance). Panic attacks last 10 to 20 minutes (rarely more than thirty minutes). During this time a person experiences extreme physical, emotional, and mental terror which might be so intense that the person feels as if he or she is going to pass away or completely freak out. Purely physical symptoms of the attack are very frightening and make many people think they are having a heart stroke. The common signs of a panic attack are as follows:
- bouts of overwhelming panic;
- understanding of a complete loss of control;
- increased heart rate and chest pain;
- feeling like you are going to faint;
- breathing problems;
- gastrointestinal disorders.
Anxiety attacks often occur in combination with different types of mental disorders which we are going to discuss below.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Depending on the nature of the stressor, duration, and other factors, psychologists have determined anxiety disorder types. The American Psychological Association (the APA), for instance, defines seven types of anxiety disorders. Let’s describe each of these in detail.
- #1 Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Millions of people around the world experience this type of anxiety disorder. It is the most widespread form of anxiety. GAD is excessive worrying and an ongoing state of mental and/or physical tension. This type of anxiety doesn’t have any particular cause but is very annoying as it distracts you from your day-to-day activities. With GAD, any situation, event, replica, or object can cause anxiety. The common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are:
- constant irritation;
- short temper;
- inability to focus;
- fatigue, feeling exhausted;
- concentrating on anxiety causing thoughts.
GAD is often combined with other types of disorders, especially obsessive compulsive and panic disorders.
- #2 Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia
Social phobia is defined as an irrational fear of social situations. Many of us suffer from this anxiety type to some degree: shyness, discomfort in delivering speeches, etc. These forms of anxiety are normal and are very widespread. Performance anxiety (or stage fright) is the most common form of social phobia. However, severe social anxiety disorder is a serious mental condition: people just stop socializing and start avoiding public places because of the fear of being seen negatively or humiliated in public. The signs of social phobia are as follows:
- fear of unfamiliar people and situations;
- feeling of being watched and judged by unknown people;
- difficulties in articulation when you need to speak.
- #3 Panic Disorder
It is important to differentiate panic disorder from panicking since the former isn’t just about getting worried about upcoming exams or losing a job. It is a more serious type of disorder: it can have very extreme and intense manifestations both of mental and physical nature. This type of anxiety disorder is characterized by panic attacks and fear of having panic attacks. Panic disorder is often triggered by hypersensitivity to body sensations. Oftentimes physical symptoms of panic come before the panic itself (for instance, a person feels her heartbeat and thinks that he or she is having a heart attack). This may sound odd, but people who have never had panic attacks but are afraid of getting ones, also qualify for a panic disorder. Panic attacks are often hard to control. It is important to get medical assistance to stop them as soon as possible.
- #4 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is a very debilitating, exhausting type of anxiety disorder. It is manifested in the form of uncontrolled obsessive thoughts and actions (obsessions and compulsions).
- Obsessions. These are preoccupations with a particular thought (usually negative and fearful).
- Compulsions. These are the actions (often performed in a very specific form) a person ‘needs to do’ in order to prevent a disaster, to feel safe or to avoid a certain illness, etc. For instance, a person can’t stop washing hands, again and again, turning lights on and off, or repeats a specific word a phrase a certain number of times.
People may have compulsions without obsessions and vice versa. One of the most popular obsessions is the fear of germs. People diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder often go through the following obsession and compulsion patterns:
- Obsession: a person notices that he/she is obsessed with a certain thought; a person tries to persuade himself/herself that these thoughts are just common worries; a person tries to shake away these worries by performing specific actions; a person realizes that the action doesn’t work, and the obsession continues; the person gets depressed because he or she can’t cope with uncontrolled thoughts; the obsession exacerbates.
- Compulsion: a person experiences anxiety (either combined with obsession or not); a person performs an action to manage the anxiety; the anxiety seems to disappear; each time a person experiences anxiety, he/she repeats the action until it becomes a ritual; a person realizes that he/she has to constantly repeat the action in order to feel safe.
Individuals suffering from obsessions and compulsions may realize that their actions and fears are irrational and have no grounds, but they still cannot control their behavior.
- #5 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that occurs in people who have experienced a life tragedy (either emotional or physical). Such disorders often appear in people after surviving in wars, natural disasters, mugging, rape, and other forms of violence. Many people suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder simply after witnessing an injury or tragic event. Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Relieving the tragic event.
- Responding to triggers. People diagnosed with PTSD often respond to different external stressors which make them think of the tragic event (loud noise and fireworks, for instance, may resemble bombing, etc.).
- Anxiety over recurrence. People who suffer from the fear of a repeat of the event also qualify for PTSD.
- Various emotional issues. After a tragic event, people may feel emotionally numb or become convinced that they are destined to die.
- #6 Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia (the term derives from Greek ‘agora’ meaning ‘marketplace’) is another anxiety disorder that is characterized as a fear of going out in public or traveling to new places. People diagnosed with agoraphobia either never leave their homes or avoid going anywhere other than their work and familiar supermarkets. The idea of going to other places makes them anxious and can cause panic attacks.
- #7 Specific Phobias
Specific phobias make up a separate group of anxiety disorders. Phobias are extreme feelings of fear because of various objects. The most common example of this disorder is arachnophobia, a fear of spiders.
Millions of people suffer from different types of anxiety disorders their entire life and can do without any medical support (in case of light forms of specific phobias). But when the problem interferes with day-to-day life, it is advisable to get a professional consultation. We hope that information given below will give you a better understanding of what is anxiety, but you should remember that it’s only a licensed psychologist who can diagnose an anxiety disorder.