Anxiety is a mental disorder that causes worrying, fear and nervousness. While there are several disorders that can cause same symptoms, anxiety would be general term for all them and it can range in severity from mild to severe.
While everyone worries about things in their lives on daily basis and most of it is considered normal, when person experiences fight or flight symptoms on an ongoing basis and it affects their daily functioning then such reaction may become problematic and it would need to be treated. Anxiety occurs when a person has a reaction to a situation that would be considered an out of proportion to a normal reaction from an average person.
There are few different types of anxiety disorders and most common are described below:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is considered a chronic disorder which is mostly accompanied by long lasting feeling of anxiety and excessive worry about nonspecific situations, or life events. People that suffer from this disorder mostly worry about their family, work, health, money, or school but they cannot really pinpoint anything specific that actually worries them. Such fear is not considered realistic and person’s reaction may seem out of proportion when compared to other people’s reactions in the same situation. People with GAD usually think that they will fail in everything: work, school, relationships, life events etc. The problem is that such way of thinking actually interferes with their daily functioning and causes them to become paranoid about everything they do.
- Phobias develop as an irrational fear with person usually avoiding some unpleasant situation or an object. Difference between generalized anxiety disorder and phobia is that while GAD is aimed at non-specific situation or an object, phobia is associated with a very specific situation, person, animal or an object and person reacts physically to it. Person can be aware of their phobia but still unable to control it. There are many different types of phobias. People with specific phobia will usually try to do this very thing that they are afraid of only to conquer their fears, and sometimes this type of treatment may be successful and sometimes not. People have fear from small narrow places, fear from heights, fear from some animals, and fear of group of people in social gathering etc.
- Panic Disorder manifests by sudden and unexpected attacks of intense fear and apprehension which can cause person to start shaking, experience dizziness and nausea accompanied by confusion and difficulty breathing. Panic attacks can happen suddenly, and they reach their peak within 10 minutes but can have effects that can last for hours. Panic disorders usually happen after prolonged exposure to stress or some terrifying experiences, but after a while, a person can start experiencing them without any reason at all. Panic attack as an anxiety disorder can be manifested physically in one’s body and person is very aware that something is not right. Panic attack can almost mimic a heart attack and people that experience it may become hypochondriac due to exposure to symptoms that can be felt on a physical level.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that characterizes in actions or repetitive thoughts that are stressful and intrude on one quality of life. People that suffer from OCD ara aware of the fact that their compulsions are not reasonable and most often are irrational but they cannot help themselves as this is how they relieve their anxiety symptoms, i.e. by repeating patterns that would soothe them and calm down. People with OCD may be obsessed with washing their hands or cleaning personal items.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder may happen when a person is separated from another person or place that offers them feelings of safety and security. This person may experience high level of anxiety resulting in feelings of panic. While this may happen to anyone, it is only considered a disorder when reaction to this separation is excessive or inappropriate. Example of separation anxiety may be of toddler being separated from their mother or father or both and it is very common type of anxiety.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that affects people that have experienced some kind of trauma such as military combat (war), hostage situation, serious accidents, rape etc. PTSD makes people change their behaviour so they would avoid certain situation that would trigger a flashback to the even that they are trying to avoid or forget.
- Social Anxiety Disorder develops when a person suffers from irrational fear of being judged by others or suffers any type of embarrassment due to their impulsive behaviour. Feelings like fear, humiliation, and fear of intimacy or stage fright are common with people that have social anxiety disorder. People that are affected by this type anxiety disorder tend to avoid contact with others and most public situations so much that it affects their normal functioning. Social anxiety disorder affects about 5% of the general population.
Among mental health disorders anxiety and panic attacks are most common and treatable. Anxiety is in fact a normal bodily response that triggers the “fight or flight response” which in turn helps us to keep us safe. This response is based on our instinct, for example we step away quickly when a car passes us too closely. However, if such response is triggered without any reason, then it may become a problem and negatively impact our daily life, including work and relationships.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety are:
- Excessive worry that borderlines on being unrealistic and is difficult to control
- Being irritable and unable to calm down, feeling on the edge
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Muscle tension, feeling restless or not tired at all
- Difficulty concentrating or having racing thoughts
- Experiencing shortness of breath, dry mouth, diarrhea, trouble swallowing, nausea, dizziness, and palpitations
While there are many types of anxiety disorders, the person that suffers from anxiety should aim to work on their specific situation and experience by building their self-awareness, mindfulness of their thoughts and actions and just build a strength to deal with everyday life without going through the “fight or flight” response on daily basis. If we can explore and deal with the source of anxiety that would help us in order to heal successfully and gain understanding of what is happening to our mind and body while experiencing anxiety.
We should all be able to enjoy life and being worry free while in control of our mind, feelings and situations we are exposed to. Perhaps we cannot control every little detail, and that is OK. But we can certainly learn how to respond appropriately so we are not set out to feel full blown anxiety every time something happens that we may consider a threat to ourselves. It may seem irrational what we feel, our reactions may feel irrational too, but they are normal. We just need to learn how to accept them, acknowledge them and let them go.