Anxiety is a fairly common term used to describe excessive worry or fear. However, there are various types of anxiety disorders, and while they share some common symptoms, they are somewhat different from one another.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
When a person feels very anxious and worried most of the time, regardless of the situation, it is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder. GAD affects a person for at least a few months, and their anxiety is caused by everyday activities and stressors, such as family, work, health, etc. Minor issues such as reaching an appointment five minutes late, not finding the right brand of detergent or having to send your car for repair can be extremely daunting for a person with GAD. Their reaction can often be disproportionate to the situation, and this can manifest itself through physical symptoms like restlessness, difficulty in concentrating, problems sleeping and constant tension in the muscles.
A panic attack is a short period of intense fear, usually in the absence of real danger. The central symptom of panic disorder is repetitive panic attacks that can occur at any given point of time. These attacks usually involve an intense feeling of anxiety that reaches its peak within just a few minutes. Symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, heart palpitations, chest pains and extreme discomfort. It is characterised by the feeling of impending doom and anticipatory anxiety, which means the affected person often suffers from anxiety about having another panic attack. Panic attacks are often mistaken for heart attacks because of overlapping symptoms.
People suffering from Agoraphobia have extreme anxiety in response to situations where escaping might be difficult. Situations like using public transportation, being in a crowded area, or being in an enclosed space causes excessive fear. The person under distress actively avoids situations such as these and the symptoms last for several months. Agoraphobia causes significant distress and could lead to issues in personal, social and professional areas of functioning.
A phobia is described as an intense and constant fear that leads to extreme aversion to a particular item, situation or activity. Rationally, people suffering from phobias know that their fear is excessive, but they are unsure how to overcome it and take extreme steps to avoid facing their fear. Some common phobias are the fear of flying, the fear of heights and the fear of spiders.
Social Anxiety Disorder
A person who suffers with social anxiety, also called social phobia, deals with extreme discomfort in any kind of social situation. They greatly fear being embarrassed, excluded, disgraced or judged in public. This leads them to either avoid such situations altogether or endure them with great difficulty. Situations like meeting new people, speaking in public, and even conducting a meeting with new people at work can wreak havoc in their life. Social anxiety can also manifest itself physically through feelings of nausea, rapid heart rates, and could even cause a panic attack.
More About Anxiety Disorders
There are other types of anxiety disorders such as selective mutism, separation anxiety disorder, substance induced anxiety disorder, but they are extremely situation specific. Anxiety disorders in general often go hand-in-hand with other mental disorders, especially depression. Mixed anxiety and depressive disorder carries some symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
Many times, people suffering from anxiety do not seek help because they are unaware that they are suffering with a disorder that actually has effective treatment. Anxiety is treatable and is easier to treat in the early stages, but may not go away on its own. When your anxiety starts interfering with your work and relationships, it is advisable to seek support from a mental health professional.
If you or someone you know is showing some symptoms of any anxiety disorder, please remember that professional help is always available.
We are living in unprecedented and challenging times. A common emotion people are struggling with is the feeling of anxiety. So, what is anxiety, and what can we do about it?