Every now and then, feeling anxious is a regular aspect of life. It's common for individuals to have concerns about health, finances, or family matters. However, Anxiety Disorders go beyond passing worries or fears. Anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive fear and worry and related behavioural disturbances. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.
However, there are different types of anxiety disorders, and while they share some similarities, there are significant differences in the symptoms.
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 being easily fatigued. GAD could also cause other physical symptoms like frequent headaches, stomach aches and constant tension in the muscles.
People diagnosed with Panic Disorder frequently experience abrupt and intense fear, discomfort, or a pervasive sense of losing control. These occurrences, known as panic attacks, can occur suddenly without any apparent external threat or trigger. It's important to note that not every individual who undergoes a panic attack will go on to develop panic disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, heart palpitations, chest pains and extreme discomfort.
People with panic disorder face anticipatory anxiety, which means they often worry about when the next attack will take place and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places or situations they associate with panic attacks. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.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. In the most severe form of agoraphobia, an individual can become housebound.
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. People with a phobia may have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation and often take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation. 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. People with social anxiety may also experience excessive sweating, rigid body posture, speaking with an overly soft voice and difficulty making eye contact and being around people they don’t know.
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.
Everyone goes through some amount of anxiety throughout their lives. It could be because of a final exam, a new job, a move to a new city or your child’s whereabouts.
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