Anxiety is a normal, human emotion characterized by worry, uneasiness, apprehension, uncertainty, or fear. Anxiety typically occurs in reaction to thinking about and anticipating a realistic or potentially threatening situation or circumstance. Anxiety can be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and shortness of breath. People typically can identify the source of their anxiety, but not always. Sometimes anxiety seems to come out of nowhere.
What is an Anxiety Disorder? Although anxiety is normal human emotion in reaction to a stressful event or worries about a particular situation, it can become so severe that it turns into an actual psychological disorder. Anxiety Disorders differ from normal, day-to-day experiences of anxiety in that they affect a person’s functioning in a major way with consistency. Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders may include panic, obsessive thoughts that are difficult to control, unwanted and intrusive memories, or physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can include rapid heart rate, stomachaches, muscle tension, shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, surges of adrenaline, or other physical sensations. Anxiety Disorders may prevent people from completing work-related tasks, performing well on the job or in school, or getting along with others. Some Anxiety Disorders may even limit someone from leaving his or her home. People with Anxiety Disorders may turn to unhelpful coping strategies such as alcohol or drug use to reduce their suffering. There are many different types of Anxiety Disorders, and no one Anxiety Disorder affects everyone the same way.
Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks, worrying about having another attack, the implications of the panic attack, or a significant change in behavior resulting from the attack.
A true panic attack is a time-limited, discrete period of intense fear or discomfort that develops abruptly and peaks within 10 minutes. During a panic attack, an individual must experience symptoms such as racing heart, sweating, trembling or shaking, feeling short of breath or feeling like the person is incapable of catching his or her breath, fear of losing control or going crazy, and fear of dying.
Panic Disorder is sometimes accompanied by an intense fear of being in a place or situation that would be difficult to leave or “escape.” When a person fears and avoids these situations to the point where he or she rarely leaves the home, a diagnosis of Agoraphobia is warranted. Agoraphobia typically occurs in the presence of Panic Disorder; however, it is possible to experience Agoraphobia without meeting diagnostic criteria for Panic Disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by severe, daily worry that is difficult to control and interferes with daily functioning. In addition to pervasive, uncontrollable worry, the individual with generalized anxiety often has a number of accompanying physiological symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and muscle tension.
PTSD is different from other Anxiety Disorder because this diagnosis requires that a person either has experienced or witnessed an event that was life-threatening or threatened the physical safety of him or herself or another person. It is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness or an inability to control the situation during this event. Typically, people think of PTSD as occurring among combat soldiers, as this diagnosis first became widely recognized during World War I, when it was referred to as “shell-shock.” However, PTSD can be caused by many other circumstances, such as severe physical or sexual abuse victimization, being the victim of a violent crime, being in a severe automobile accident, or living through a natural disaster. Specific symptoms of PTSD can include feeling like one is re-experiencing or reliving the traumatic event in some way, avoiding situations that remind the individual of the traumatic event, and heightened levels of physiological arousal.
Specific Phobias are Anxiety Disorders that only occur in the presence of a particular stressor. Examples of specific phobias include arachnophobia (fear of spiders), acrophobia (fear of heights), and claustrophobia (fear of being confined). Individuals with specific phobias will avoid the thing they fear and typically experience intense distress when they are in a situation where they must endure what they most fear, such as someone with claustrophobia who must take an elevator to get to a certain floor in a tall building.
OCD is characterized by either obsessions or compulsions (or both) that are excessive or unreasonable. Obsessions are defined by recurrent, persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that generate anxiety. These obsessions are not worries about real-life problems, and the person feels compelled to reduce the anxiety generated by their obsessions in some way. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person feels driven to do to reduce anxiety, distress, or the likelihood of a feared outcome. Excessive hand-washing and checking to make sure doors are locked are examples of some of the most commonly cited compulsive behaviors that OCD sufferers endure.
In the case of Social Anxiety Disorder, this stressor is when an individual is exposed to either new people or possible evaluation by others. An individual with social phobia fears embarrassment or displays of anxiety and knows that the fear is unreasonable.
By far the most common diagnosis in this category, Unspecified Anxiety Disorder is a diagnosis given when a person exhibits high levels of anxiety that is extremely distressing and/or interferes with his or her ability to function in work, school, or social relationships. This diagnosis is given when the specific symptoms do not fit into any other specific diagnostic categories.
Thankfully, extensive research and program development have shown many therapeutic methods are effective for treating Anxiety Disorders. The specific type of psychotherapy depends on the individual and type of anxiety. The length of treatment also varies based on several factors. Research suggests that psychotherapy provides the best long-term relief from Anxiety Disorders because therapy provides the client with tools that can be used to manage anxiety. Medication often is prescribed for sufferers of anxiety, and medication can provide immediate relief; however, medication does not teach the client-specific techniques and tools that lead to long-term change. If you think you may be suffering from significant anxiety, a qualified psychologist or other qualified licensed mental health professional can provide you with the guidance you need to find relief.
This article is for informational purposes only. Information provided on this website is not intended to be used in place of professional psychological or medical advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment. If you are seeking mental health treatment, we welcome a call to this office at 770-457-5577. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.