Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent, or commonly occurring, psychiatric conditions in the world, affecting approximately 16% of people between the ages of 18 and 54. These conditions vary depending upon the expression of symptoms, but have, as their common feature, intense physical discomfort (e.g., racing heart, hyperventilation, muscle tension), worrying, and avoidance-based behaviors (e.g., social withdrawal). Most individuals who suffer from anxiety also have an aversion to feeling “out of control,” and develop intense, conditioned fears to situations where they feel powerless, trapped, or helpless. Over time, these conditioned fears, and the resulting avoidance, can significantly impact their social, occupational, and scholastic functioning. Despite knowing that their fears are irrational, the majority of people with anxiety will continue to experience symptoms throughout the lifespan without treatment. A summary of common anxiety conditions include:
Panic Disorder is characterized by a constellation of physical symptoms (e.g., racing heart, sweating, throat tightness) that come “out-of-the-blue” and provoke catastrophic thoughts (e.g., I’m going to have a heart attack). Panic attacks are generally self-limiting, however, the fear of having another episode can result in the habitual avoidance of certain locations, such as a crowded restaurant, where another attack may spontaneously occur and escape would be difficult or impossible. Over time, this avoidance can result in a related condition called agoraphobia which is an intense fear of public spaces.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by recurrent and persistent thoughts, images, or impulses that are intrusive and unwanted. If you have OCD, you may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your repeatedly, doing and undoing certain actions, of checking to make certain that you’ve done things correctly. Compulsions can also be recurring mental rituals, such as repeating things in your head, or replaying something again and again.
Social Anxiety Disorder: If you have a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness and the fear of being negatively evaluated or judged. Often times, these fears are accompanied by physical symptoms, such as blushing, stammering, or a racing heart, that exacerbate worries about seeming different or weird. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are chronic worriers who feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Often times, the worries fall into categories, including fears about the future, fears about having done something wrong, and fears about ones’ health. The anxiety related to GAD often presents as physical symptoms, such as insomnia, stomach discomfort, feeling on edge, muscle aches, and headaches.
Acute and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a panic attack that rarely, if ever, remits. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened, hypervigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
Simple Phobias are unrealistic or exaggerated fears of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals such as snakes and spiders, fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the event, object, or situation that you fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only strengthens the phobia.
If you would like to understand more about your anxiety, including whether professional help may be warranted, check-out this helpful anxiety inventory.
If you are interested in developing additional coping strategies for dealing with you anxiety, please contact Life Changes Group to schedule an appointment with one of our CBT clinicians. Anxiety and panic disorder are among the most treatable psychiatric conditions when appropriate support is placed.