Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses. Five major types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a constant, chronic state of worry and tension. People with GAD report always feeling anxious. They worry about almost everything, even when they know that their fears are unjustified.
Symptoms of GAD include an inability to relax, difficulty concentrating, an elevated startle reflex, trouble sleeping and physical problems like headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and tension, trembling, sweating, nausea, diarrhea and hot flashes. When severe, GAD can make it nearly impossible to complete simple, everyday tasks.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder suffer from upsetting thoughts (obsessions) and the continuous use of rituals (compulsions) to control the stress they cause. Though compulsions do reduce obsession-induced anxiety, relief is fleeting. Over time, compulsions become so severe that they interfere with daily life.
OCD can manifest in many different ways, but rituals usually relate to obsessions. Fear of fire, for example, may compel an individual to constantly check the stove to ensure that all the burners are turned off. People with OCD may have preoccupations with order and symmetry. They also may have difficulty throwing things away, which can result in hoarding behaviors.
Panic disorder involves sudden anxiety attacks that are usually accompanied by sweatiness, dizziness, a pounding heart and lightheadedness. Individuals undergoing panic attacks may experience nausea or diarrhea, chest pain, numbness or tingling in the hands, flushing or chills. Sufferers report feeling out of control and often feel as though they are experiencing a heart attack.
Panic attacks can occur any time (even during sleep) and can last for a few minutes or much longer. Usually, panic attacks begin to occur in late adolescence or young adulthood. People who have repeated, severe panic attacks are diagnosed with a panic disorder. This disabling condition can eventually lead to serious consequences, including agoraphobia, and appears to be inherited.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs after a person is involved in, witnesses or is somehow exposed to any event that causes psychological trauma and affects the individual’s ability to effectively cope. Events can include, but are not limited to, warfare, death or threat of death, rape or other sexual trauma, torture, abuse, car accidents, fires, bombings or natural disasters.
Symptoms of PTSD include emotional numbness, loss of interest, irritability, aggression, anxiety, violence and difficulty sleeping. Often, PTSD sufferers experience flashbacks to the event. Occasionally, flashbacks are so real that the individual believes the event is reoccurring. PTSD is a severe condition that can extremely and negatively impact the individual and those around him.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by feelings of overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder have a chronic fear that they are being judged by others and/or will do something to embarrass themselves. Fear may be limited to specific types of events (eating in front of others, going on a date, meeting a new person) or could apply to broader scenarios (situations involving the opposite sex, interacting with non-family members, etc.). Often, persons with social anxiety disorder worry for days or weeks prior to these situations.
Social anxiety disorder can be both physically and psychologically debilitating. Physically, patients may suffer from blushing, sweating, trembling, diarrhea, nausea and stammering. Psychological effects include problems with work, school, family and friends. The sufferer may become isolated and, in extreme cases, housebound.
Anxiety and co-occurring disorders.
Because of the distressing, potentially debilitating effects of anxiety disorders, affected individuals may also suffer from co-occurring conditions, including depression and other anxiety disorders. Additionally, some may abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms. When a dual diagnosis, such as an addiction or substance abuse problem, is present, the co-occurring condition must be treated first.