The anxiety disorder field has come a long way in the past decade. At one time, all anxiety disorders were categorized together as different manifestations of the same disorder. But today the field has become highly specialized, treating each variation as its own disorder with specific defining symptoms.
If you believe you have an anxiety disorder, this article is a good start in becoming informed and ready to begin the road to healing. Keep in mind, only a doctor can make a medical diagnosis. If you recognize your symptoms in the list below, call your doctor’s office and bring a copy of this article to your appointment.
The following are the five most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders and how they are defined.
GENERAL ANXIETY DISORDER
One of the most common anxiety disorders is General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. Symptoms can range from excessive worry and tension to general edginess and jitters, even when the situation would not normally call for such feelings. This edginess can also make it difficult to sleep, which only compounds the problem over time as the sufferer becomes more exhausted and less able to cope with stressful situations.
Knowing the Difference Between Normal Worry and General Anxiety Disorder
Everyone is subject to worry from time to time — living and working in today’s society brings with it a fair amount of stress on a daily basis. If you find that your worries are limited to specific incidents for short periods of time, and these feelings of worry are realistic in nature, there is probably no need for concern.
But with General Anxiety Disorder, you may find that your feelings of worry are uncontrollable and cause a major disruption to your life or job. You may find that you are highly self-conscious when in social situations and speaking with others. Eating and drinking in front of someone is a common trigger for this anxiety.
If you have been anxious every day for six months or more; if you tend to procrastinate because everything feels overwhelming; or if you can’t relax and enjoy quiet time, you should seek help.
Revealing the Unadvertised Details
If you are experiencing recurring episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms, you may suffer from panic attacks. These often unpredictable episodes can cause intense physical reactions such as dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain and heart rhythm problems. While an individual with a panic disorder can have specific known triggers, they are often not able to predict these episodes.
Feelings of dread may sneak up on sufferers of panic disorders. Making the panic attacks even more alarming is that they are often accompanied by intense physical symptoms, such as sensations of numbness in the body, shortness of breath, and a racing heart. Because of these physical symptoms, a large number of people with Panic Disorder will seek help sooner than those with other anxiety conditions. The good news is that Panic Disorder is one of the most treatable anxiety disorders.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER
Defining Criteria for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, may not be a condition you immediately associate with anxiety, but it falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders because it introduces unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors in the patient.
These unwanted thoughts and behaviors can include repetitive tasks such as asking numerous questions, counting, washing hands, constantly checking things, or an obsession with cleaning. OCD can also come in mild forms that have individuals talking back to their own thoughts with feelings of doubt and guilt.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
The Invisible Wound
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can develop in the wake of a traumatic life experience, such as assault, war, or natural disaster. The condition can manifest as early as three months or as long as several years after the event. People who have witnessed shocking events often suffer silently. PTSD can come in many forms, such as flashbacks and nightmares of traumatic memories.
Sufferers may feel hopeless about everyday life, experience hallucinations, or find themselves easily startled or scared. Think of PTSD as a war within one’s own mind that may be invisible to the rest of the world. This anxiety disorder can occur at any age after a traumatic experience, but there are factors that appear play a role in susceptibility to PTSD, such as genetics. Women have also been found to be more prone to the development of PTSD.
Social Phobia, Specific Phobias and Agoraphobia
Social phobia has been described as the most common anxiety disorder – individuals with social phobias fear embarrassment and humiliation in public or social situations. If you are suffering from a social phobia, you may feel pressure, stress and anxiety when exposed to the judgment and scrutiny of others. It is normal to be nervous giving a presentation at work or school, and it can even be natural to feel as though you are under a microscope sometimes at social gatherings. However, these feelings of fear and anxiety are much more severe in those with social phobias, to the point where they often avoid social situations altogether.
On the other hand, specific phobias are quite common and often develop from childhood fears that were never outgrown. Specific phobia involves a strong fear or avoidance of one particular type of object or situation. This is different from other disorders because specific phobios do not cause random panic attacks, but coming in contact with the feared object or scenario can create a panic reaction.
As with all phobias, specific phobias are so strong that they can interfere with normal routines like work and relationships. Some examples of specific phobias include: animal phobias, driving phobia, elevator phobia, acrophobia (fear of heights), doctor and dentist phobias, and illness phobia.
With agoraphobia sufferers fear situations they perceive as dangerous or uncontrollable – situations such as open highways or crowded public spaces. This disorder is characterized by the fear of situations in which it might be difficult to escape from in the event of a panic attack. While agoraphobia was once considered to be a fear of public spaces, it is now actually thought to be a complication of panic attacks, as the sufferer wants to avoid situations where there is “no way out” at all costs.
You Have Options
If you find yourself identifying with the symptoms above, you should seek medical help, develop a treatment plan with your doctor, and do what you can to educate yourself on the triggers and root causes of your anxiety or fear. But even if you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, remember that you have options. Therapy, medication, natural supplements and lifestyle changes can all prove invaluable as you seek to regain control of your thoughts and emotions. There is no shortage of information out there, so you will be able to research your options and find what is right for you.