Anxiety is a normal part of life. It can even be useful when it alerts us to danger. But for some people, anxiety is a persistent problem that interferes with daily activities such as work, school, or sleep. This type of anxiety can disrupt relationships and sap the enjoyment out of life. Over time it can lead to health concerns and other problems.
Do you find yourself constantly worrying about any number of things? Do you find it difficult to control your worrying? Do you feel restless, keyed up, or on edge? Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Are you easily fatigued? Irritable? Finding it difficult to sleep? Do you avoid social situations, particular places, or particular objects because they make you anxious and distressed? If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Most of us think of anxiety as manifesting itself in symptoms such as nervousness, restlessness, and constant worrying. Indeed, these are symptoms of what is known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, there are several other kinds of Anxiety Disorders, including but not limited to the following:
- Panic attacks occur during a period of time in which there is a sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness, or terror. These attacks are accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and choking sensations. Panic attacks occur in various contexts, as described below.
- Agoraphobia is anxiety associated with situations or places from which escape might be difficult, or anxiety over the possibility of having a Panic Attack in public without help being available. An example of agoraphobia is a person’s becoming very anxious and distressed whenever riding in an elevator.
- Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic disorders may occur both with and without agoraphobia. Panic disorder without agoraphobia is experienced, for example, by a man who suffers panic attacks in various situations without warning, in the absence of agoraphobia.
- Specific phobia is characterized by high levels of anxiety provoked by exposure to a specific feared object. This anxiety leads to efforts to avoid the object. Examples include experiencing unreasonably high levels of anxiety when around dogs or in the presence of snakes.
- Social phobia is characterized by high levels of anxiety provoked by exposure to social situations (such as going to parties) or situations in which one is expected to perform (such as giving a public presentation or speech). This anxiety often leads to extraordinary efforts to avoid such situations.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted and disturbing thoughts that cause marked anxiety or distress (obsessions), typically followed by efforts to relieve the anxiety or distress (compulsions). For example, this disorder can be seen in a woman who expresses anxiety about her hands being contaminated by dangerous bacteria (obsession) and who then constantly washes her hands in an effort to remove the bacteria (compulsion).
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterized by the unwanted reexperiencing of an extremely traumatic event, accompanied by symptoms of anxiety and avoidance of stimuli (sights, sounds, smells) associated with the traumatic event. An example of PTSD is a rape victim’s vividly re-experiencing her rape as though it were happening again, and so she goes to great lengths to avoid the neighborhood where the rape occurred in order to prevent such re-experiences.