According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 40 million adults in the United States, or about 18 percent of the population, is affected by an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, and although they are highly treatable, only about 37 percent of people suffering receive treatment. Anxiety disorders have many different causes and risk factors, and they are experienced by different people in a variety of ways.
There are five major types of anxiety and many more subtypes, but all can be treated, allowing patients to live fuller, happier lives.
What is anxiety?
Most people feel anxiety at some point or another, and the experience is common in certain situations and times in our lives. Feeling anxiety on a temporary or fleeting basis is normal, but anxiety becomes a mental health issue when the feelings last for an extended period of time, become extreme, or begin to interfere with a person’s quality of life and everyday activities.
Anxiety is defined as fear or apprehension about the future, and it is naturally experienced in the body in response to stress. Our bodies can sometimes naturally experience anxiety in response to stress, and anxiety is a normal part of the stress response until it becomes chronic or unmanageable.
There are many different types of anxiety, but most fall into one of five main types of anxiety:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
What causes anxiety disorders?
Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes anxiety disorders, but it is believed that a number of factors play a role in the development of anxiety disorders in different people. Often, multiple factors may be the cause of anxiety disorder or contribute to the development of the condition in people at risk of experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Common causes of anxiety disorders include:
- Genetics, or family history of anxiety disorders
- Brain chemistry
- Environmental stress, including stressful events that you have experienced, such as childhood abuse or neglect, being the victim of violence, or experiencing the death of a loved one
- Drug withdrawal or misuse
- Medical conditions, particularly heart, lung, or thyroid conditions, which can mimic the symptoms of anxiety disorders or make anxiety worse
Some people are more at risk of developing anxiety disorders than others. Risk factors for anxiety disorders include:
- History of mental health disorder
- Living through a traumatic event
- Severe illness or chronic health condition
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Negative life events
- Substance abuse
- Low self-esteem
What are some common symptoms of anxiety?
Each of the types of anxiety disorders has slightly different symptoms, but some symptoms of anxiety disorders are common across all of the different types. While each person experiences anxiety somewhat differently, the main symptom of all anxiety disorders is excessive worry or fear. The object or reason for that worry or fear varies depending on the type of anxiety disorder a person has.
Common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:
- Panic, uneasiness, and fear
- Sleep issues
- Cold, numb, sweaty, and/or tingling hands or feet
- Breathing more quickly than normal (hyperventilating)
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
- Thinking about a problem repeatedly and being unable to stop the thoughts
- Obsessively and intensely avoiding feared places or objects
- Feelings of danger, doom, or panic
- Being unable to remain calm or still
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Inability to concentrate
What are the different types of anxiety?
Although there are five major types of anxiety disorders, there are many different subtypes and manifestations of anxiety. The five major types of anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder, affecting an estimated 6.8 million, or 3.1 percent of American adults over the past year; 5.7 percent of U.S. adults will experience generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a condition that is characterized by excessive feelings of anxiety or worry regarding a number of different events and activities that occur most days of the week for a minimum of six months. People with generalized anxiety disorder may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause of their anxiety and may have difficulty controlling their feelings, which can cause difficulties in social situations, at work, or in other areas.
Symptoms specific to generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling restless or on-edge
- Having difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Having muscle tension
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Being easily fatigued
- Being irritable
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, better known as OCD, is a chronic anxiety disorder that is characterized by uncontrollable recurring thoughts, known as obsessions, and behaviors that a person feels the need to repeat over and over again, known as compulsions. People with OCD experience repeated thoughts or mental images that cause anxiety, and there are a wide range of triggers for these thoughts.
Common obsessions for people with OCD include a fear of germs or contamination, aggressive thoughts toward other people or themselves, unwanted thoughts about sex, harm, or religion that the individual deems taboo, or a need to have things in specific order or particular pattern.
People with OCD exhibit repetitive behaviors in response to their obsessive thoughts, and while each person’s compulsions are different, common compulsions include excessive cleaning or hand washing, compulsive counting, repeatedly checking things to make sure that a door is locked or a light is turned off, and arranging things in a particular way.
People with OCD are unable to control their thoughts or behaviors, even when they do not want to perform specific actions. They typically spend at least one hour a day with the thoughts or behaviors and do not generally feel pleasure or satisfaction as a result of completing their rituals, but may feel some relief. The disruptive thoughts and behaviors can cause substantial interference in a person’s day to day life.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and recurrent panic attacks.
Although many people experience one or two panic attacks over the course of their lifetime, people with panic disorder experience these episodes on a regular basis. Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear that can feel like a person is having a heart attack, and they last for several minutes and come on quickly.
Some people experience panic attacks as the result of a specific trigger, while others cannot identify a reason for the attacks. Panic attacks are scary and can make a person feel like they are dying, so people with panic disorder often spend a great deal of time worrying about the next attack and trying to prevent future attacks. The intense worry about future episodes and the effort spent trying to avoid future attacks can play a significant role in the person’s life and make socializing and other situations challenging.
Common symptoms experienced during a panic attack include:
- Heart palpitations
- Accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling of impending doom
- Pounding heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of being out of control
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder that can develop when people experience a dangerous, shocking, scary, or traumatic event. While most people who experience a traumatic event will experience short term symptoms of the body’s fight-or-flight response, most do not develop chronic symptoms, or PTSD.
People with PTSD experience symptoms including flashbacks, where they feel like they are reliving the trauma over again, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts. Each of these episodes can cause physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating. They may try to avoid places, events, or objects that remind them of the traumatic experience or try to avoid thinking about the event, and they are often easily startled, have difficulty sleeping, and appear tense or on-edge; some have outbursts of anger.
Other symptoms include difficulty remembering key parts of the traumatic event, feelings of guilt or blame associated with the event, negative thoughts about themselves and the world, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
Social anxiety disorder
People with social anxiety disorder, sometimes abbreviated as SAD, are fearful and anxious about social situations and performance situations. They are concerned that their behaviors will be negatively interpreted by other people, which can cause embarrassment and shame. People with social anxiety disorder often avoid social situations when possible and can find it difficult to interact with new people at work, school, or in social settings.
If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, take a deep breath and know that there are resources available to help you. YANA is an easily accessible, affordable online mental health clinic which can be a good option for those looking for professional mental health counseling. Each individual gets the one on one attention they need to figure out a long term treatment plan, whether that’s online therapy sessions or anti-anxiety medication.
The most important step is getting started on the path to a happier, healthier life, so get started with YANA in just a few clicks today.