This is the first post in our three-part series on anxiety. This article begins the discussion on an important mental health issue and reviews the five main types of anxiety disorders.
Stress and worry, restlessness and irritability, tension and fear – these feelings are as much a part of life as breathing oxygen and drinking water. They’re inevitable emotions caused by the ebbs and flows of everyday life.
Anxiety creeps in when these emotions become heightened and a surge of adrenaline races through our body. In fact, anxiety is our body’s instinctual response to a potentially threatening or dangerous situation. Indeed, it is a large component of our ‘fight or flight’ response.
However, when these seemingly natural, sporadic emotions and reactions to certain life events become incessant, unsubstantiated, dysfunctional and distracting, an anxiety disorder may have taken flight.
An anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder that is characterized by excessive, chronic feelings of worry, anxiety or fear. The emotions experienced with an anxiety disorder are strong enough to interfere with normal day-to-day functioning.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect an estimated 40 million adults aged 18 years and older – about 18.1% of the population – every year in the United States. They are the most common form of mental illness in America.
It’s important to note that severe anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. The term anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for the various ways the condition presents itself. Unfortunately, the way people manage anxiety is different, too. Around 20 percent of Americans who suffer from anxiety turn to drugs or alcohol to help cope with the symptoms.
If you feel you contend with persistent anxiety, learning about the different types of anxiety disorders can help you start to make sense of everything you’re experiencing and begin to learn how to cope and find the support you need.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is characterized by unrelenting, unrealistic worry and tension that continues even when there is nothing promoting the excessive emotions. People with GAD often experience this chronic worry every day and, sometimes, all day.
People with GAD also partake in a lot of negative self-talk, often expect the worst, and feel the intense emotions are out of their control.
GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S., with women twice as likely as men to be affected.
The persistent worry that accompanies GAD occurs most days out of the week for at least six months. The concerns can revolve around money, family, work, health or any number of other issues.
Everyday life is affected by the constant worry, as the lack of sleep, inability to concentrate, fatigue and irritability can all cause mood, behavior and relationship issues.
Panic Disorder is characterized by unexpected and reoccurring panic attacks. During these attacks, feelings of profound apprehension, impending doom or sudden, intense fear are experienced.
People who live with panic disorder experience alarming physical symptoms during an attack.
Panic disorder affects 6 million adults in the U.S., with women twice as likely as men to be affected.
Panic attacks are scary occurrences that can disrupt and debilitate everyday life. People who live with a panic disorder walk a fragile line between trying to function normally and worrying about when another attack will happen. To exacerbate circumstances, symptoms of panic disorder can be so severe that they’re often confused for heart, thyroid and frightening breathing disorders. Because of this, panic attacks can send some people to the emergency room.
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme self-consciousness and an overwhelming fear of being rejected, judged or viewed negatively. Depending on the individual, social anxiety disorder can be linked to just one type of situation – such as gathering around large crowds, giving a presentation at work and others – or, multiple types of situations, where an individual feels overwhelmed and fearful almost anytime they are around other people.
Social anxiety disorder affects approximately 15 million adults in the U.S. each year.
Since almost every aspect of life requires human contact, social anxiety disorder puts individuals who live with it in an incredibly hard spot. Social anxiety disorder sabotages an individual’s personal and professional social life – which, in turn, can affect a plethora of other things. In extreme cases, individuals with social anxiety disorder avoid places or events where there are crowds or other people in general due to the severity of their symptoms.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by the repetition of unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive thoughts and behaviors – also referred to as rituals – are done to make obsessive thoughts go away or avoid them altogether. Fulfilling the desire to perform a ritual only provides short-term relief, but forgoing a ritual completely can significantly increase anxiety. OCD is the only anxiety disorder that involves repetitive actions, as opposed to fearing or avoiding triggers.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects approximately 2.2 million adults in the U.S. each year.1
While it’s normal to perform “rituals” in daily life, like having a schedule you follow, drinking your morning coffee or walking the dog at a certain time, people with OCD carry out rituals repeatedly to avoid intrusive thoughts and manage their anxiety.
OCD can steal hours from a person’s day as they complete complicated, time-consuming rituals. Some individuals with OCD live in fear that they will accidentally harm themselves or someone else, throw something away by mistake or say something incorrect or inappropriate.
Often times, people who live with OCD know that their behavior is irrational, but they feel they cannot control or stop the never-ending loops. It’s common, too, for people with OCD to avoid their triggers altogether to ensure they will not “get stuck.”
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing a disturbing, distressing event where serious physical and/or emotional harm took place or was threatened. Specific traumatic events that can cause PTSD include, but are not limited to, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, violent personal/sexual assaults or military combat. While it is normal to experience dangerous or scary events and feel stressed or anxious during and after them, PTSD is thought to develop when these symptoms last for longer than a month.
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects approximately 7.7 million adults in the U.S. each year.1
Avoidance symptoms include:
Cognition and mood symptoms include:
Arousal symptoms include:
PTSD can disrupt a person’s everyday routine. Typically, symptoms stem from an individual’s thoughts and feelings, but actions and words from other people and certain events or objects can send an individual right back to the traumatic event. Triggers can also cause an individual to completely change their daily routine in an effort to help manage the severe anxiety that’s tied to PTSD triggers.
Furthermore, an individual’s mood and arousal symptoms don’t just affect them, but their friends and family, too. Like all anxiety disorders, PTSD can have a ripple effect.
An anxiety disorder can take over one’s entire life. On days when the worry and tension are too much to bear, some turn to alcohol to cope. This coping mechanism, however, can lead to abuse and addiction, and one severe condition compounds another.
Be sure to read the second post in our three-part series on anxiety where we discuss why anxiety can lead to alcohol abuse.
Anxiety and addiction can steal the beauty and joy from your days and make life feel forlorn at times. Without question, however, there is hope and incredible, life-altering support that can help you restore your life. You can kick your addiction and regain absolute control over your anxious emotions. At Covenant Hills, we will walk with you every step of the way and help you forge the future you were always meant to lead.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & Statistics. Accessed May 9, 2018. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.