Anxiety is a normal and essential reaction to stress or danger that helps all of us to cope with everyday situations. We feel it before a big job interview, before an important exam or when dealing with difficult people. But when anxiety becomes an excessive, persistent and irrational fear or dread of everyday situations it is categorized as an anxiety disorder. Here we will look at some of the common disorders with a brief description of each.
The term anxiety disorder is defined as a chronic condition characterized by an excessive and often unrelenting sense of irrational fear, worry or dread, often producing any number of physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and sweating. While the exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown, the condition seems to be brought on by both biological and environmental factors.
Common Anxiety Disorders
Included in the general “anxiety disorders” category are several specific types of common disorder, differentiated by the types of symptoms they produce and the way these symptoms affect the anxiety sufferer. Below are the most common ones, in no particular order.
- Panic Disorder – characterized by sudden and intense bouts of overwhelming and irrational fear, usually reaching its peak after about 10 minutes and lasting in totality about thirty minutes to an hour. Often accompanying this deep and unreasonable fear are a host of physical symptoms including chest pains, sweating, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling and a general feeling of fatigue.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – characterized by persistent and irrational feelings of uneasiness or apprehension. People suffering from generalized anxiety disorder worry unreasonably about things like money, family, health and even death when there is no cause to support such worry. Physical symptoms such as trembling, muscle tension, sweating, frequent urination and labored breathing often go hand in hand with generalized anxiety.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – often referred to as social phobia, is a condition characterized by an irrational and pervasive fear of social situations. Those coping with social anxiety disorder often refrain from participating in any type of social environment for fear of being judged by others or embarrassing themselves.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – characterized by constant and irrational fears that cause sufferers to engage in ritualistic behavior. For instance, someone with OCD might have an irrational fear or obsession about germs, and feel compelled to wash his/her hands constantly. The fear of germs in this situation is labeled the obsession, and the ritual of constant hand washing is the compulsion.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This often surfaces following a specific traumatic event. It is usually seen in combat soldiers returning from war, PTSD can produce a constant state of fear and anxiety which is linked to the original traumatic experience.
- Agoraphobia – characterized by an irrational fear of being anyplace where an anxiety-related event could occur. Those suffering from agoraphobia often relate their anxiety to a particular place and event, fearing they will not be able to escape when the anxiety reaches its peak. Usually this fear will cause them to avoid these places altogether.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, as many as 40 million Americans, or eighteen percent of adults ages 18 and older, will suffer from some form of anxiety disorder in any given year.
While there is no universal cure for any of these common anxiety disorders, the symptoms associated with each can usually be managed effectively with medication and therapy. Untreated, however, they can create serious problems both at work and at home for those that suffer its effects.