Anxiety Disorders

Everyone feels anxiety from time to time. For those who suffer from an anxiety disorder, the disorder can impair one’s ability to do certain things (e.g., get on a plane) or handle specific situations (e.g., public speaking). Anxiety can make people act in ways they know to be irrational. Anxiety can even make living a normal life almost impossible.

What are the different types of disorders and their symptoms?

Panic Disorder

Rapid heartbeat, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and sweating are among the many symptoms that can accompany a panic feeling that something terrible (like losing control or dying) is about to happen. People who experience recurring attacks or who are distressed about having these attacks have "panic disorder."

A person’s fear of these attacks can lead him or her to avoid any situation that might trigger an attack. The person may avoid driving, crowds, or being alone.

Social Phobia

The fear of embarrassment makes some people avoid certain ordinary social or performance situations—like public speaking, going to parties, eating in restaurants, writing in front of others, or using public restrooms. People with a social phobia feel so threatened by certain situations that they either avoid them completely or suffer terribly when they cannot avoid them.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Some people try to cope with severe anxiety by repeatedly doing something that may calm their fears. Individuals obsessively worried about contamination, for example, may wash their hands repeatedly. People who fear causing unintentional harm may check something—like whether the gas is turned off or whether the doors are locked—over and over again.

Other signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) include excessive collecting or hoarding, compulsive counting, doing things in an unnaturally slow or ritualistic manner, replacing "bad" thoughts with "good" ones, and fears related to religious beliefs. People with OCD are usually aware that their behavior is unnecessary or extreme, but they feel they are unable to stop their actions or thoughts.

There are other disorders that may be associated with OCD. The most common is Tourette’s disorder, with symptoms of sudden, rapid, repeated tics (e.g., eye blinking, sticking out one’s tongue) or sounds (e.g., barks, throat clearing).

Specific Phobias

The term "specific" refers to fears of a single type of thing. Fears of flying, illness, heights, small spaces, or certain animals are all examples. Specific phobias are common. Most people, in fact, will tell you they have at least one phobia or one thing that makes them nervous. However, not everyone needs treatment.

When a phobia interferes with normal life, treatment can help. For example, if fear of flying makes it impossible to conduct business or visit relatives, overcoming the phobia is important.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worry excessively and may experience symptoms like fatigue, restlessness, irritability, and muscle tension. The GAD interferes with their ability to function at work and at home.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may follow a traumatic event such as an accident, rape, assault, or natural or man-made disaster. Often, people with PTSD will have frightening thoughts and memories about the traumatic event that interferes with their daily routine. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbed emotions, depression, feeling angry, and being startled are common when someone is suffering with PTSD.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Treatment begins with a comprehensive evaluation. A clinician evaluates the nature and severity of the anxiety, and assesses whether physical, emotional, or environmental stressors could be contributing to the development and maintenance of the disorder. Then you and your clinician develop a treatment plan. The plan is individualized so that your treatment addresses the most pressing problems first. Anxiety disorders can be treated by therapy, medications, or a combination of the two.