Learn About Anxiety Disorder & Treatment at Life Healing Center
Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that are characterized by excessive fear of perceived imminent or future threats. Panic disorder is one type of an anxiety disorder, though panic can also be a symptom of another type of mental health disorder. One of the primary differences between an anxiety disorder and “normal” periods of fear or worry is that symptoms of an anxiety disorder will be much more severe or last longer than is appropriate for the sufferer’s developmental stage.
The term “anxiety disorder” is actually a general descriptor of a category of mental health challenges. The following are among the more common or prevalent anxiety disorders:
Agoraphobia: Also sometimes referred to as “fear of crowds,” agoraphobia is present when a person experiences fear or anxiety when in the following circumstances: using public transportation, being in open places such as parking lots or marketplaces, being in enclosed places such as shops or theaters, standing in line or otherwise being in a crowd, or being outside of the home without the accompaniment of a trusted friend or family member.
Generalized anxiety disorder: This disorder is characterized by excessive worry (or apprehensive expectation) about several events and/or activities. Individuals who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder will worry with an intensity, duration, or frequency that is disproportionate to the likelihood of effect of the event that they are fearfully anticipating.
Separation anxiety disorder: Individuals who suffer from separation anxiety disorder experience developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear related to actual or anticipated absence of a person of great importance to the sufferer. Examples of separation anxiety disorder symptoms include having profound fear of being lost or kidnapped, being overly worried that a loved one will be harmed or killed, and being unwilling to leave home due to these fears.
Panic disorder: This type of anxiety disorder manifests via abrupt surges of intense fear or discomfort (commonly referred to as panic attacks). Common symptoms of panic disorder include accelerated heart rate, excessive perspiration, feelings of being choked or smothered, dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, and numbness or tingling sensations. Individuals who have panic disorder will experience recurrent episodes of these symptoms, which will peak within minutes of their onset.
Selective mutism: This form of anxiety disorder is characterized by a consistent failure or inability to speak is certain social situations despite being able to speak at other times. Individual with selective mutism may be incapable of speaking at school or when meeting new people, yet have no problem speaking at home or when in the company of trusted friends or family members. For a diagnosis of selective mutism, the problem must last for more than one month and must not be related to a lack of knowledge of or comfort with the required language.
Social anxiety disorder: Also referred to as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive fear or nervousness related to social situations in which the sufferer may be exposed to scrutiny by others. Situations that can trigger the onset of social anxiety disorder symptoms include meeting unfamiliar people, being observed by others while eating or drinking, and having to perform or speak in front of a crowd of people.
Specific phobia: This form of anxiety disorder involves an intense fear or anxiety about a specific object or experience. Common forms of specific phobia include having profoundly negative reactions to insects or animals such as spiders or dogs, events such as flying or being in high places, or experiences such as receiving an injection or seeing blood. A diagnosis of specific phobia may be called for when a person experiences distress to the point that his or her ability to work, go to school, participate in interpersonal relationships, or meet other responsibilities is impaired.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable conditions. Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s disorder, anxiety treatment may involve various types of therapy, counseling, and/or medications.
Anxiety Disorder Statistics
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. The ADAA reports that about 18 percent of the adult U.S. population (or about 40 million people aged 18 and above) are affected by an anxiety disorder, yet only about one-third of anxiety disorder sufferers get treatment for their problems.
Information provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) indicates that women are 60 percent more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder than are men. The NIMH also estimates that just over 4 percent of the U.S. adult population suffers from severe forms of anxiety disorders.
Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorder
There is no single cause for any of the types of anxiety disorders. Years of research indicate that these disorders may result from a myriad of biological, genetic, physical, psychological, and environmental influences acting alone or in combination with one another. Though there is no one factor that will definitely predispose a person to develop an anxiety disorder, several risk factors seem to significantly increase the likelihood that this will occur. Consider the following:
Genetic: Individuals who have a family history of mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders, are at increased risk for having similar experiences themselves. Also, people with certain personality types or who have suffered from other mental health problems also have a higher likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder.
Environmental: External stresses and pressures can be major contributors to the development of an anxiety disorder, as can abuse, serious illness, and grief/loss. If not addressed in a healthy manner, stressful situations at work or at home can transcend the “normal” pressures of everyday life and lead to an anxiety disorder. Experiencing trauma (including but not limited to being assaulted or abused, serving in military combat, or surviving a terrible accident or serious illness) can also be a precursor to the development of an anxiety disorder.
- Gender (women are at significantly higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder)
- Serious illness
- Divorce or death of one’s spouse
- Substance abuse (both addiction and withdrawal can be precursors to anxiety disorders)
- Personal history of trauma
- Family history of mental illness
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Even within the various versions of anxiety disorders, there is no one symptom or set of symptoms that always presents. That said, the following are among the more common symptoms that are associated with the most prevalent anxiety disorders:
- Exaggerated startle response
- Participating in ritualistic and/or repetitive behaviors
- Poor work performance
- Social isolation
- Angry outbursts
- Avoiding of certain people, places, or situations
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty breathing
- Disrupted sleep
- Appetite loss
- Increased heart rate
- Body temperature changes
- Muscle tension
- Rapid thought processes
- Intense obsessions
- Irrational compulsions
- Flight of ideas
- Difficulty making decisions
- Concentration difficulties
- Repetitive thinking
- Ongoing feelings of worry
- Intense nervousness
- Feeling powerless
- Fluctuating moods
- Feelings of detachment from one’s surroundings
- Feelings of guilt
Effects of Anxiety Disorder
As suggested by the lists of symptoms in the previous section, anxiety disorders can have a profoundly negative impact on virtually all aspects of a person’s life. The following are among the more common effects of untreated anxiety disorders:
- Social and emotional isolation
- Poor performance at work
- Strained or destroyed personal relationships
- Abuse of alcohol and other drugs
- Sense of hopelessness, guilt, and self-hatred
Anxiety Disorder & Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders are also dealing with other issues. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other stressor-related conditions, more specifically, are often experienced by anxiety disorder suffers following a traumatic event. The following are among the other disorders that are commonly experienced by people who are also dealing with anxiety:
- Substance use disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Learning disorders