The Common Types of Anxiety Disorders That Can Affect People

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  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic disease wherein patients often feel afraid and frequently worry about aspects of life such as health, money, family, work or school
  • Factors such as negative experiences (bullying, rejection or humiliation), personality traits (being shy or timid), new social or work demands or underlying condition/s that can draw attention may trigger social anxiety disorder

The term “anxiety” does not refer to one type of condition alone. It actually covers a variety of diseases that can affect people in different ways. Here are the most common types of potentially crippling anxiety disorders.1

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Free Floating Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or Free Floating Anxiety2 is a chronic disease wherein patients often feel afraid and frequently worry about aspects of life such as health, money, family, work or school.

While it is normal to be concerned about certain facets of life, people with GAD have trouble identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries that result from it.3

People with GAD experience fear that is typically unrealistic or out of proportion with what is to be expected during the situation. They also expect instances of failure and disaster to happen, leading to a disturbance in their daily functions at work or school and in their social activities and relationships.4

In a year, GAD strikes at least 6.8 million adults, equivalent to 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, with women twice as likely to become diagnosed.5 Typical symptoms include:6

Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge

Becoming easily fatigued

Difficulty concentrating

Irritability

Muscle tension

Difficulty controlling the worry

Sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep, unsatisfying sleep or restlessness


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Just like GAD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic7 condition wherein the patient has obsessions or compulsions that are repetitive, distressing or intrusive. The University of Maryland Medical Center defines these hallmarks:8

Obsessions: recurrent or persistent mental images, thoughts or ideas that range from mundane worries (such as wondering whether a door has been locked or not) to frightening fantasies (like behaving violently toward a loved one)

Compulsions/compulsive behaviors: repetitive, rigid and self-directed routines that are done to prevent the realization of an obsession. Examples include frequent checking for locked doors or unlit stoves, calling loved ones to assure they are safe or washing hands or cleaning surroundings to avoid dirty environments

Patients with OCD have acknowledged that their behaviors are unreasonable or irrational and they work to alleviate the anxiety, but ultimately they cannot stop these feelings.9,10 While there is no definite cause linked to OCD, research has shown that there may be a neurological connection, as brain images have revealed that the brains of people with OCD function differently.11

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder arises when a patient undergoes brief or sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension, known as panic attacks.12 These are said to trigger a sudden and overpowering feeling of uneasiness, wherein the patient feels like he or she is having a heart attack, going insane or dying. The patient also experiences shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea and breathing difficulties.13

Unfortunately, panic attacks can occur anywhere, anytime and often without any warning.14 They tend to arise abruptly and last for 10 to 20 minutes, although they can continue for at least an hour or more.15 Instances of panic disorders often happen after a patient encounters frightening events or prolonged stress, but these can be spontaneous too.16

Panic disorder disrupts the lives of at least 6 million American adults in one year. The disease often develops during the stages of early adulthood, with women twice as likely to have a panic attack compared to men.17 The symptoms often start before people are 25 years old, but they usually manifest once people reach their mid-30s.18

Given the potentially devastating nature of panic attacks, some patients suffer these “consequences” in order to prevent another attack:19

An awareness of any changes to normal body function and an interpretation of it as a life-threatening sickness, or hypervigilance followed by hypochondriasis

An expectation that he or she could suffer from future attacks, resulting in drastic behavioral changes

Some patients may develop agoraphobia, or the avoidance of situations or places where they previously had a panic attack. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), at least 1 in 3 people who have panic disorder eventually exhibit this condition. People who have agoraphobia refrain from going to areas such as shopping malls, public transportation or sports arenas where they think that immediate escape might be difficult.20

Phobia

Phobias are an irrational fear and avoidance of a particular object or situation. Those who have phobias have already acknowledged their fear as either irrational or unnecessary, but they are unable to control the anxiety that occurs because of it. Certain situations, animals or everyday objects are common stimuli for certain phobias.21

Should a person be exposed to a source of fear, he or she could experience a panic attack that may have the following symptoms:22

Pounding or racing heartbeat

Shortness of breath

Rapid speech or inability to speak

Dry mouth

Upset stomach

Nausea

Elevated blood pressure

Trembling or shaking

Chest pain or tightness

Choking sensation

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

As the name implies, people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) face suffering from past incidents like:23,24

Military combat

Rape

Hostage situations

Natural disasters

Witnessing violent deaths

Personal assaults

Serious accidents


These people often experience flashbacks of the event and as such make behavioral changes in order to prevent encounters with particular stimuli.25 There are many symptoms for PTSD, such as:26

Nightmares

Frightening thoughts

Sweating and shaking

Refusing to discuss life events

Avoiding things that trigger memories of the event

Feelings of detachment and estrangement from others

Feelings of emotional and mental numbness

Reduced interest in life

Inability to remember certain parts of the event

Difficulties in concentration

Insomnia

Flight-or-fight syndrome

Moodiness

Irritability

The ADAA notes that there are 7.7 million Americans aged 18 and above who have PTSD.27 The Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs highlights that women are twice as likely to have PTSD compared to men. Even more devastating, research has shown that around 30 percent of both men and women who were exposed to war zones eventually experience PTSD.28

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder happens when a patient’s anxiety rises due to separation from a person or place that makes them feel secure or safe. Certain instances of separation can lead to panic, and if the response is excessive or inappropriate, this is considered a disorder.29

This anxiety disorder usually occurs in children, with the first few symptoms appearing first during the third or fourth grade, after school breaks.30 Some symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include:31

Refusal to sleep alone

Repeated nightmares that have a theme of separation

Excess distress when separation from home or family happens or is anticipated

Excessive worry about the safety of a family member

Excessive worry about getting separated from a family member

Refusal to go to school

Fearfulness and reluctance when being left alone

Stomachaches, headaches or other physical complains

Muscle aches or tension

Excessive “clinginess” even when at home

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a type of social phobia wherein a patient has a fear of being negatively judged by others or a fear of public humiliation because of impulsive actions. This condition includes feelings such as stage fright, fear of humiliation and a fear of intimacy.32 People who have this anxiety disorder tend to avoid instances like:33

Using a public restroom

Eating in front of others

Dating

Attending parties or social gatherings

Going to work

Entering a room where people have already seated

Returning items to a store

Initiating conversations

Factors such as negative experiences (bullying, rejection or humiliation), personality traits (being shy or timid), new social or work demands or underlying condition/s that can draw attention may trigger this disorder.34 According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have social anxiety disorder show these two types of symptoms:35

Emotional and Behavioral Physical

Concern that a patient may offend someone

Intense fear of talking or interacting with strangers

Fear that others will notice a look of anxiousness

Fear of symptoms that could signal you are embarrassed, such as blushing, sweating, trembling or a shaking voice

Avoidance of doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment

Avoidance of situations wherein the patient might become the center of attention

Anxiety because of a feared activity or event

Spending time after a social situation analyzing a performance and pointing out flaws in interactions

Expecting the worst possible consequences from a negative event during a social situation

Fast heartbeat

Upset stomach or nausea

Trouble catching breath

Dizziness or lightheadedness

Confusion or an “out-of-body” experience

Diarrhea

Muscle tension

Take note that these symptoms can change over time, and maybe even worsen should a patient encounter higher amounts of stress or demands.36

Minor Types of Anxiety Disorders

You or someone you know might also be affected with these minor anxiety disorders. While they are not as prevalent in people compared to the aforementioned types, these conditions could still be devastating, so it’s vital that they are addressed quickly:

MORE ABOUT ANXIETY

Anxiety: Introduction

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety vs Panic Attacks

Anxiety in Children

Anxiety During Pregnancy

Anxiety Duration

Anxiety Causes

Anxiety Types

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety Prevention

Anxiety Diet

Anxiety Support Groups

Anxiety FAQ


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