Everyone gets affected by anxiety. It is perfectly normal to feel stressed or anxious every now and then. These anxieties often help us manage our lives and keep ourselves in check. Someone who is nervous about a test might take some extra time to study so that they can do well, and so that their fear of getting a failing grade is kept at bay. Anxiety also works as an indicator that we are overworking our minds and that we need to relax.
Unfortunately for some of us, this same anxiety can get out-of-hand. Our brains sometimes tend to overreact to situations we would otherwise be equipped to handle. Before we can take a deep breath and chill out, our bodies are pumping dizzying amounts of adrenaline into our bloodstream and we’re having a fight-or-flight response to a date or an argument. Some people feel this intense response most of the time. That chronic feeling of anxiousness and fear is the marking of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety isn’t that simple, however; there are many forms that anxiety can take. Here are a few specific types of anxiety that people experience.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is the most common among anxiety disorders to be diagnosed. People with GAD suffer from intense and persistent worry. A GAD sufferer can worry or feel anxious about a number of events, ranging from school or work to their family life at home. This anxiety is associated with at least three of these symptoms:
– Difficulty concentrating
– Muscle tension
– Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep
People with GAD often cannot explain their anxiety using specific fears, as those with more specified anxiety disorders have.
Those who suffer from GAD can find relief in a number of treatment options. This can range from mindfulness meditation and brisk exercise to cognitive behavioral therapy and medications like benzodiazepines.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
People with separation anxiety show high amounts of stress at the thought or experience of being separated from a specific person or “attachment figure”. People with separation anxiety worry that something unexpected could separate them from their attachment figure, or that their attachment figure will abandon them. This anxiety persists through nightmares of being alone and a persistent refusal to leave their attachment figure.
This type of anxiety is more common in children than adults. Kids with separation anxiety may be clingy and insist on sleeping with their parents at night. Children with separation anxiety also have difficulty being left by their parents at school or daycare. Though it is not common, adults are also capable of developing separation anxiety in their relationships with their parents, significant others, or even their own children.
Children often grow out of separation anxiety disorder, but if it persists for 6 months or longer, they may find benefit in cognitive-behavioral and family therapy. This can help a child to learn to be independent and sociable at the time that their attachment figure is absent. Adult sufferers may also find benefit from these therapies.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) and Selective Mutism
People with Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD, fear public situations and exposure to unfamiliar people. Worried that they will be embarrassed in a public setting and judged by others, SAD sufferers tend to avoid situations in which they are in the spotlight. The thought or anticipation alone, of an upcoming social situation or group function, can cause major anxiety related symptoms like panic attacks or severe stomach pain. People with SAD may show signs of stress by forms of:
– Little to no eye contact
– Freezing in place
– Running off
– Tasks like eating in public
Children and adults alike can suffer from SAD, but some children with social anxiety may also have a more intense inability to function in social situations. Selective Mutism is a type of social anxiety in which a child is unable to speak in social situations, despite being able to speak normally otherwise. Often times, this problem arises at school or in the presence of strangers. If a child with selective mutism is able to communicate at all, they might only be able to nod or whisper.
Individuals who suffer from social anxiety can benefit from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, to help them stay calm in social situations. There is also a range of therapies that can help someone overcome social anxiety.
A panic disorder is a condition in which an individual experiences panic attacks multiple times in their lifetime. Panic attacks are intense bursts of fear followed by a range of physical symptoms. These include at least 4 of the following:
– cold sweats
– muscle stiffness or trembling
– hyperventilation (fast, shallow breathing)
– fear of death and/or insanity
People with panic disorder have these panic attacks and live in fear afterward that they will suffer from another one. This sometimes actually provokes more panic attacks. More often than not, panic attacks are had in combination with other anxiety disorders.
There is a range of medications that can aid a person in a panic attack. Therapy is also important in handling panic disorder. A licensed professional can teach effective ways of combatting a panic attack as it happens.
People with agoraphobia have a fear of public places. Sufferers get anxious in places they deem too open or dangerous. Many people who suffer from agoraphobia coop themselves up in their homes where they are comfortable and familiar with their environment. Agoraphobes often become over-dependent on other people to compensate for their inability to cope in public. Agoraphobia can develop at any age, and both men and women can be affected.
Agoraphobia can be triggered by other fears. One might become agoraphobic because they fear to become a victim of a crime. Agoraphobia might be due to fear of contracting a disease or illness. Whatever the trigger, agoraphobia can be extremely debilitating. Exposure therapy works effectively against agoraphobia in conjunction with medication.
Specific phobias are fears that an individual might have about a specific object or situation. These phobias are persistent and extreme, and cause a ton of stress to the sufferer. There is a huge range of phobias that can develop for an infinite number of reasons. Phobias can be environmental, like acrophobia: the fear of heights. They can also be animal based, or even situational, like taphophobia: the fear of being buried alive.
Phobias often arise due to traumatic experiences that cause people to make negative associations with these objects or situations. Someone who was clawed in the face by a cat in their childhood might have an avid fear of cats in their adulthood. As with agoraphobia, exposure therapy is extremely effective in dealing with specific phobias. In cases where exposure therapy may not be safe or applicable, cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective in changing a person’s negative association to their feared object/situation.
What about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)?
Yes, OCD and PTSD were categorized by many psychiatrists as disorders to be grouped with the aforementioned anxiety disorders. Recently, there have been new findings about these disorders that deem them both unique enough to be in categories of their own. However, this is not to suggest that OCD and PTSD are any less important to deal with!
The common thread that groups disorders like GAD, SAD, Panic Disorder and phobias together, is that sufferers of these anxiety disorders experience future-oriented fear.
OCD differs in that, though there is anxiety felt in the sufferer’s obsession, they are able to find temporary relief in their ritualistic compulsions. Unfortunately for OCD sufferers, this means a life of cyclical ritualism that can affect the goings-on of daily living. OCD can be treated with SSRIs, as well as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Those who suffer from PTSD may suffer anxiety-like symptoms similar to GAD or even Panic Disorder, PTSD is unique in that it is past-oriented. The sufferer suffers flashbacks that bring them back to the event of their traumatization. PTSD can be treated with cognitive or psychotherapy, though there is a range of medications that can prove useful depending on the range of symptoms a sufferer has.
Do you see a connection between any of these descriptions and yourself? That’s okay! Millions of people around the world understand what it’s like to suffer from an anxiety disorder, so you’re not alone. Understand that every single one of these anxiety types is treatable and manageable. You can click here to read up on how to better understand your anxiety. Can’t relate? That’s okay too. If you know anyone suffering from an anxiety disorder, remember to be open and reassuring. Especially when they are having a moment of intense anxiety.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed). American Psychiatric
Kupfer, David J. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, Les Laboratoires Servier, Sept.
“Selective Mutism: Signs and Symptoms.” American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association, ASHA, www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589942812§ion=Signs_and_Symptoms.