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.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
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.
The 5 Main Types of Anxiety Disorders
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
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.
Signs and Symptoms of GAD
- Muscle tension
- Consistently fatigued
- Feeling on edge
- Feeling distracted
- Sleep issues
- Inability to control the worry
How GAD Affects Everyday Life
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.
2. Panic Disorder
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.
Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder
- Heart pounding or palpitations
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure and/or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Severe upset stomach
- Feeling out of control during an attack
- Intense fear of a future panic attack
How Panic Disorder Affects Everyday Life
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.
3. Social Anxiety Disorder
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.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea when around other people
- Sweating, blushing or shaking around others
- Worrying for multiple days or weeks, even, leading up to an event with other people
- Feeling very self-conscious around or in front of other people
- Being fearful other people will judge them
- Worrying about feeling humiliated in front of others
- Having a difficult time making and keeping friends
How Social Anxiety Disorder Affects Everyday Life
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.
4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
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
Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Exaggerated worry over arrangement, order or symmetry
- Persistent, irrational worry about germs, contamination or dirt
- Intense worry that negative thoughts or impulses will lead to personal harm or cause harm to a loved one
- Fixation with throwing away items that possess little or no value
- Mental rituals that involve continuous counting of things, analyzing of conversations or praying to counteract obsessions
- Cleaning that involves frequently bathing, washing hands or sanitizing kitchen appliances or household items
- Repeating that involves continuously doing an activity or saying a phrase or name.
- Touching and arranging
- Continuous checking that involves examining multiple times (sometimes, hundreds of times) that items are unplugged, turned off and shut and locked.
How Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Affects Everyday Life
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.”
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
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
Signs and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Intense, frightening thoughts
- Flashbacks, where the trauma is relived again
– Flashbacks are usually accompanied by an increased heart rate and/or sweating
Avoidance symptoms include:
- Refraining from visiting places, attending events or seeing people or objects that serve as reminders of the traumatic event
- Preventing thoughts or feelings from occurring that are related to the traumatic event
Cognition and mood symptoms include:
- Difficulty remembering essential details about the traumatic event
- Adverse, pessimistic thoughts about oneself or the world
- Excessive feelings of guilt, blame or shame
- A disinterest in once loved hobbies or activities
- Feeling unfocused and scattered
Arousal symptoms include:
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling persistently tense
- Difficulty sleeping or experiencing insomnia
- Loss of appetite
- Easily startled
How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affects Everyday Life
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.
Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse
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.
Do You Already Contend with an Addiction Because of Your Anxiety?
Co-Occurring Addiction Drug Treatment at Covenant Hills
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.
Learn more about our individualized, faith-based co-occurring drug and alcohol treatment programs, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & Statistics. Accessed May 9, 2018. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.