What are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause
people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, or uneasy during
situations in which most other people would not experience these same
feelings. When they are not treated, anxiety disorders can be severely
impairing and can negatively affect a person’s personal relationships
or ability to work or study. In the most severe cases, anxiety disorders
can make even regular and daily activities such as shopping, cooking
or going outside incredibly difficult. Anxiety disorders can further
cause low self-esteem, lead to substance abuse, and isolation from
one’s friends and family.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America:
they affect around 20 percent of the population at any given time.
Fortunately there are many good treatments for anxiety disorders.
Unfortunately, some people do not seek treatment for their illness
because they do not realize how severe their symptoms are or are too
ashamed to seek help. Furthermore, these disorders are often difficult
to recognize for friends, family and even some doctors.
What are the most common anxiety disorders?
by “panic attacks,” panic disorder results in sudden feelings of terror
that can strike repeatedly and sometimes without warning. Physical
symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, heart palpitations,
shortness of breath, dizziness, upset stomach, feelings of being
disconnected and fear of dying. Some people with this disorder may
experience unrealistic worry of having more panic attacks and become
very ashamed and self-consciousness. This can result in some people
feeling too afraid to go to certain places (e.g., airplanes, elevator)
which can be very intrusive in their daily lives.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
is 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 in order to momentarily release their anxiety that
something bad might happen to themselves or to someone they love. People
with OCD may be aware that their symptoms do not make sense and are
excessive, but on another level they may fear that the thoughts they are
having might be true.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—When
people experience or witness a traumatic event such as abuse, a natural
disaster, or extreme violence, it is normal to be distressed and to
feel “on edge” for some time after this experience. Some people who
experience traumatic events have severe symptoms such as nightmares,
flashbacks, being very easily startled or scared, or feeling
numb/angry/irritable/distracted. Sometimes these symptoms last for weeks
or even months after the event and are so severe that they make it
difficult for a person to work, have loving relationships, or “return to
normal.” This is when a person may be suffering from PTSD. Many people
with PTSD have difficulty discussing their symptoms because they may be
too embarrassed or scared to recall their trauma. This is common in
victims of sexual abuse and in combat veterans.
Phobias—A phobia is a disabling and irrational
fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger for most
people. This fear can be very disabling when it leads to avoidance of
objects or situations that may cause extreme feelings of terror, dread
and panic. “Specific” phobias center on particular objects (e.g.,
caterpillars, dogs) or situations (e.g., being on a bridge, flying in an
airplane). Many people are very sensitive to being criticized and are
ashamed of their phobias which can lead to problems with self-esteem.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)—A severe,
chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday events is the most common
symptom in people with GAD. This is a worrying that lasts for at least
six months, makes it difficult to concentrate and to carry out routine
activities, and happens for many hours each day in some people. Some
people with this disorder anticipate the worst and often experience
physical symptoms of fatigue, tension, headaches and nausea due to the
severity of their anxiety.
Social Anxiety Disorder—An intense fear of social
situations that leads to difficulties with personal relationships and at
the workplace or in school is most common in people with social anxiety
disorder. People with social anxiety disorder often have an irrational
fear of being humiliated in public for “saying something stupid,” or
“not knowing what to say.” People with this illness may have symptoms
similar to “panic attacks” (e.g., heart palpitations, dizziness,
shortness of breath) or may experience severe sweating (hyperhidrosis)
when in social situations. This leads to avoidance of social situations
which can make it difficult to go to parties, school, or even family
Other recognized anxiety disorders include: agoraphobia, acute
stress disorder, anxiety disorder due to medical conditions, such as
thyroid abnormalities, and substance-induced anxiety disorder, such as
from too much caffeine.
National Alliance on Mental Illness