Most people have experienced occasional anxiety at some point in their lives. Whether it’s an important interview, stress about job performance, or having to make an important decision, anxiety can control the responses and feelings we have in certain situations.
Persistent, intense anxiety that impacts daily life, however, is a mental health condition that affects millions of Americans. Many don’t seek treatment until their symptoms have significantly disrupted their emotional and physical health.
This post will discuss the major types of anxiety, treatments for each disorder, and how to determine the symptoms that are indications of chronic anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an intense fear or excessive worry that is experienced in everyday situations.
Anxiety can be a normal response to stress and it can help people cope with temporary feelings or emotions. While some anxiety is normal, experiencing consistent anxiety can disrupt a person’s daily life. When anxiety interferes with daily function is when anxiety can become a real problem in a person’s life, and may warrant a diagnosis.
Anxiety disorders center around the anticipation of possible future events and are associated with avoidance behavior.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety disorders bring on a variety of symptoms, ranging from irritability and nervousness to a rapid heart rate, trembling, and uncomfortable physical symptoms.
- Excessive worry and fear
- Panic and racing thoughts
- Agitation and irritability
- Rapid breathing
- Sleep issues, insomnia
- Stomachaches and headaches
- Chest pain
- Muscle tension
There are more specific anxiety symptoms that relate directly to the anxiety disorder a person is struggling with. Let’s discuss the major types of anxiety disorders that affect people all over the world.
Major types of anxiety disorders
The major types of anxiety disorders have many similar symptoms but can affect individuals in different physical and psychological ways. Different anxiety disorders may dictate treatment options as well. It’s important to determine which form of anxiety disorder you or a loved one is experiencing, so a doctor or mental health professional can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety as quickly as possible.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry that disrupts daily life. Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder experience ongoing worry about ordinary issues, including money, work, family, and health.
This anxiety disorder can persist for up to six months and can include symptoms like muscle tension, sleep problems, trouble concentrating, and restlessness.
Generalized anxiety disorder has similar symptoms to panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The cause of generalized anxiety disorder is mostly unknown, but research suggests it’s related to environmental and genetic factors. Research has shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are involved.
Treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is routinely done through talk therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective therapy method — it teaches patients how to manage their stress and get back to a normal routine.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
Social anxiety disorder, sometimes called social phobia, is a mental health condition that causes individuals irrational fear and worry in social situations.
Often confused with shyness, social anxiety disorder is characterized by an overwhelming and persistent fear that can impact daily activities.
Social anxiety disorder often begins to show itself during the teenage years, with individuals experiencing anxiety and stress in social settings with their school peers.
In its most severe form, those with a social anxiety disorder may avoid all social interactions and situations entirely. Others may experience selective anxiety when specific events, like a job interview or public speaking, give them social anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder can be caused or worsened by a few factors, including:
- Physical or psychological abuse
- Self-consciousness or insecurities
- Previous negative social interactions
- Potential genetic and environmental factors
Treating social anxiety disorder is typically done through therapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in conjunction with anxiety medication, like antidepressants.
Panic disorder is generalized by recurrent panic attacks that are riddled with fear and panic. Panic attacks are associated with a sudden wave of fear or distress and can be physically and emotionally taxing.
The physical symptoms of panic attacks include trembling, sweating, a rapid heart rate, and body tingling. Even when there is no real apparent danger, panic attacks can be overwhelming and scary for individuals.
Those with panic disorder may attempt to change their daily routine to prevent future panic attacks. This can include avoiding certain people, social situations, or places that may trigger one.
Research suggests that panic attacks are the body’s response to false alarms, where our survival instincts are too active or too strong, resulting in a physical response.
The cause of panic disorder is unknown, but many researchers believe it is related to genetics, stress, and environmental factors.
Those with panic disorder respond best to psychotherapy, known as talk therapy, and medication like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, or beta blockers.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Many people experience traumatic events in their lives. Some are more severe than others; these can range from witnessing an accident, losing a loved one, sexual assault, combat, or disaster.
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects around 12 million people in the United States each year. Many war veterans experience PTSD after witnessing death or experiencing an injury.
The symptoms of PTSD fall into four distinct categories, including intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.
Intrusion is categorized by intrusive, disruptive thoughts, distressing dreams, and flashbacks to the event that are involuntary and disturbing. These scenarios can be so realistic that the individual may think they are reliving the traumatic event.
Avoidance occurs when the individual avoids places, people, or objects that may trigger distressing memories. They may avoid talking about the event or try to stop remembering or thinking about it.
Alterations in cognition and mood are characterized by the inability to recall important aspects of the event and experiencing negative internal feelings that stem from the event. This may include feeling detached from others, feeling guilt or shame around the event, or being unable to experience positive emotions like happiness or personal fulfillment.
Alterations in arousal and reactivity include symptoms of irritability, angry outbursts, or self-destructive behavior. Individuals may struggle to concentrate, have sleep troubles, and startle easily.
To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have symptoms for over a month that cause significant distress to their daily function. They may also experience other mental disorders like depression. Treating PTSD is done through trauma-focused psychotherapy and often in conjunction with medication.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have distressing thoughts that compel them to perform repetitive behaviors in order to relieve unwanted distress.
An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder struggles with recurring, unwanted thoughts that cause them distress. In order to placate the distress, they perform actions (compulsions) to relieve it.
Typical compulsions in OCD include repetitive hand washing and checking on/ counting things. These actions significantly disrupt their lives because they feel compelled to do them repetitively until their distress subsides.
Symptoms of OCD include:
- Fear of germs or contamination
- Fear of causing harm to oneself or someone else
- Fear of making a mistake in public
- A need for order and symmetry
Compulsive behaviors include:
- Arranging objects in a specific way
- Washing your hands over and over
- Checking locks, lights, and appliances repetitively
- Eating food in a specific order
- Performing a task a certain number of times
A common treatment plan for OCD includes cognitive behavioral therapy, medication like antidepressants, exposure and response prevention therapy (EX/RP), and TMS therapy for OCD.
There are other anxiety disorders that affect other age groups, including:
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
It is highly possible to treat anxiety disorders through treatment by a mental health provider. The most effective anxiety treatments include:
Under the care of a mental health professional, individuals with anxiety disorders can experience relief from uncomfortable symptoms. Through psychotherapy, known as talk therapy, individuals will gain coping skills and strategies to rewire their thoughts and change negative behaviors that impact their lives.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches patients how their thoughts impact their emotions and responses to situations that cause them anxiety. By changing thought patterns, patients can reduce the intensity of anxiety disorder symptoms.
Anti-anxiety medications are often used in conjunction with therapy to provide additional support and relief from anxiety symptoms. Common medications, including SSRIs, antidepressants, and nerve pain medication, provide patients with additional relief.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety that haven’t responded to other treatments. TMS therapy is not FDA-approved for anxiety treatment but has been indicated as a successful “off-label” use for treating anxiety.
Some lifestyle changes can make a difference in managing anxiety symptoms, but they can’t cure anxiety disorders, unfortunately. These changes include better sleep, yoga, meditation, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, practicing mindfulness, and breathing techniques.
What to do if you think you have anxiety
Anxiety is a normal part of life, but if you begin to experience regular symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help. The experts at Neuro Wellness Spa provide high-quality treatment for a multitude of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders. Contact us today to begin your journey to healing.