Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions in which uncontrolled anxiety interferes with your daily life. People who have these types of disorders manifest a good deal of time perseverating over their condition, so much so that it can often overtake many of our life functions and habits. With an anxiety disorder, it’s not possible to just “step away” and relax, in fact, it becomes extremely difficult to stop the cycle of feeling anxious and suffering the symptoms of anxiety, even though there is might not be any real present danger or threat at that moment.
We all experience some level of anxiety from time to time, from work worries to family problems, to the everyday stressors of modern life. But what’s the difference between everyday worry and an anxiety disorder? There are several different types of anxiety disorders, and some related conditions that cause anxiety, too. Here are the most common anxiety disorders.
Generalized anxiety disorder, also called GAD.
As the name suggests, generalized anxiety disorder causes people to worry about a wide variety of circumstances and issues. Some of these issues are things we all may think about when problems loom on the horizon, including possible illnesses or financial problems. But people with GAD worry all the time, and about things that most people would consider minor, even forgettable.
For people with GAD, just heading out of the house can be a major task. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, people with GAD can become overwhelmed by the anxiety that takes over their life.
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia.
Everyone feels a bit uncertain about certain types of social occasions, but social anxiety disorder causes people to avoid situations that involve meeting groups of people, or even, taking on certain job offers. Those who suffer from social anxiety disorder worry excessively about being judged and targeted for ridicule or embarrassment.
Performance anxiety is a subset of social anxiety disorder, and it can cause a racing heart, sweating, and inability to speak clearly in front of others. Social phobias can cause people to worry weeks in advance of an event such as a scheduled speech or performance. Just as with GAD, social phobias take common concerns and magnify them many times over.
Panic disorders cause sudden, intense bouts of fear and intense anxiety that usually last for short periods of time. These attacks can occur at any time, and can last for longer periods, too. Panic attacks can sometimes produce symptoms that mimic heart attacks, including shortness of breath, and chest pain. Part of the fear that people with panic disorder have is that an attack could occur at any time, without warning.
Other, related disorders
The American Psychiatric Association categorizes all mental health conditions. Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) both frequently cause anxiety, but they are in their own, separate category.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder – OCD – causes people to have disturbing thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Patients with OCD are unable to control ritual behaviors, such as hand washing, or repeated checking and rechecking of locks, checkbooks, etc. Patients believe these ritual behaviors will help prevent problems and performing them consistently and orderly relieves anxiety. This obsession and compulsions can take over people’s lives.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is triggered by a traumatic event. Soldiers, victims of violence or trauma, and law enforcement professionals may experience symptoms of severe PTSD, which include flashbacks, nightmares, and mood instability. Substance abuse is sometimes associated with PTSD and, when undiagnosed or left untreated, patients often self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Treatment for anxiety disorders involves a combination of talk therapy, behavioral therapy, and sometimes, medications. It’s important to work with a mental health professional who is experienced in treating anxiety disorders, and who is someone you trust and feel comfortable working with.
An experienced mental health professional can help evaluate you or a loved one, make a diagnosis, recommend treatment, or perform further testing. To schedule a psychiatric evaluation, please call our Walpole, Mass., office at (508) 660-1666 or request an appointment online.