You don't need to feel worried if your heart begins to race and your hands become clammy when you're preparing for a big presentation at work or you're stretched too thin at home. Your body is designed to respond to stress with an uptick in adrenaline and other anxiety symptoms. If, however, you find yourself regularly feeling anxious and stressed but you can't pinpoint a specific cause for your symptoms, it's time to get some help. You might be suffering one of the more commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect around 40 million Americans adults age 18 and older each year. There are several different types of disorders that cause anxiety. Each anxiety disorder includes some of the same types of symptoms, but each also has some specific identifying symptoms to help clinicians make the diagnosis. Luckily, the disorders are easily treatable, and most patients find significant relief from their symptoms after treatment begins.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder. This condition displays itself as a constant feeling of anxiety that affects your day-to-day activities.
Symptoms that are associated with this condition include the following:
- Excessive worry about everyday issues for more than six months
- Difficulty getting rid of these concerns
- Recognition that worries are out of proportion to the situation
- Physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, irritability, nausea, and lightheadedness
- Generally lacking confidence
For your physician to make the diagnosis, he or she would look for three or more of the following symptoms to be present on most days over the last six months:
- Problems concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Problems sleeping
Individuals with panic disorder suffer from ongoing, frequent panic attacks, as well as the fear of the next potential attack. These attacks last for 15 to 30 minutes and do not have an obvious trigger. Most anxiety disorders have panic attacks as a component of the disorder but there typically is a recognizable reason why the attack started. It is difficult to determine how often a panic attack will occur - it could be days or even months. Sometimes the memory of an earlier attack will trigger a repeat attack.
Symptoms of panic disorder include the following:
- Chest pain or pounding heartbeat
- Feelings of dread
- Problems breathing
- Feelings of losing control or impending death
The diagnosis generally requires these symptoms:
- At least two unexpected panic attacks
- Fear that another attack will happen for at least a month afterwards
If you find yourself compulsively switching light switches on and off, washing your hands repeatedly, or performing other tasks multiple times without reason, you may suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There are some symptoms associated with obsessions and some with the compulsive part of the disease.
Obsessions are ideas or thoughts that keep coming back. Obsessive symptoms include the following:
- Fear of contamination after touching things
- Concerns about locking doors or turning off the stove
- Intense need to make sure things are lined up correctly or turned the same way
Compulsions are strict, rigid behaviors that the person uses to control or manage the anxiety that the obsessive thoughts create. Compulsive symptoms include the following:
- Constantly checking to see if stove is off
- Checking to see if door is locked over and over again
- Frequent handwashing, which can cause dermatitis or a skin rash
- Frequent hair pulling, often resulting in hair loss
- Patterned counting
- Counting steps and making sure that you take the right number of steps between two locations
- Turning cans or folding towels a certain way
Individuals suffering from OCD find that their compulsions take on a life of their own, interfering with everyday activities. You may want to stop these behaviors, but you can't. OCD typically occurs with depression or other anxiety disorders.
Phobias are characterized by an irrational fear of an object, animal, or situation that actually doesn't present a realistic danger. For instance, if you find yourself going to extreme lengths to avoid spiders or left turns, you're probably suffering from a phobia.
The following symptoms are associated with a phobia:
- Irrational fear or dread
- Knowledge that these fears are irrational and are not associated with actual presence of danger
- Automatic reactions that can consume the person's waking thoughts
- Going out of your way to avoid the situation that evokes the fear
- Physical reactions associated with excessive fear like rapid heartbeats, shortness of breath, desire to flee
This condition can also be further categorized depending on what is the object of the irrational fear. There are specific phobias like agoraphobia or social phobia or phobias caused by almost anything under the sun.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
If you experienced or witnessed an extremely traumatic event, you may find yourself having flashbacks or nightmares of the event. This may mean that you are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Emergency workers, police officers, and even family members may also suffer from PTSD. Many people experience stress and anxiety after a trauma, but if the symptoms continue and begin interfering with your life, it may be time to investigate whether you may have PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD can come and go or can show up again years after the actual event. The symptoms of PTSD are generally divided into three groups:
- Reliving the event. These symptoms include having flashbacks, nightmares, and memories of the event that upset you. You may also have intense feelings, often with physical reactions, when remembering the event.
- Avoidance. You avoid places, situations, people, or anything that might remind you of the event. You start to forget important details of the trauma. Another symptom is that you start separating yourself from your friends and family and you stop caring about anything.
- Increased emotional arousal and anxiety. This group of symptoms contains issues like sleep problems, lack of concentration, and frequent angry outbursts. You may also feel like you are on alert and tense all of the time.
People who suffer from PTSD may also be depressed, suicidal, and may turn to substance abuse to cope.
To get a diagnosis of PTSD, you have to have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event and been significantly upset by it. You also need to have had one of the reliving symptoms, three avoidance symptoms, and two arousal symptoms for more than three months.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Almost everyone feels a little nervous going into a new social situation, but when your extreme fear of being judged or viewed negatively by others prevents you from engaging socially, you may have a social anxiety disorder. This condition can destroy one's life so it is important to understand the symptoms and get help.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include the following:
- Extreme discomfort in social situations
- Extreme efforts to avoid social situations
- Extreme fear of being judged by others
- Physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, blushing, sweating, muscle tension, and bowel complaints
You may experience social anxiety disorder in all situations or only in certain types of situations.
Understanding Your Symptoms
As you can see, different anxiety disorders often have some symptoms that may overlap. However, since there are some specific symptoms for each condition, if you describe your symptoms to your physician, your doctor may be able to give you an exact diagnosis.