A Start to Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Approximately 18.1 percent of people suffer from anxiety in some form or another. This is based on reported cases and is thought to be much higher, at around 30 percent, as there are many unreported cases out there. Anxiety is like a spectrum and each sufferer sits at his or her own specific spot. There is a myriad of different anxiety disorders out there each with their own duration, strength, and symptom manifestation. Each disorder is different and each has their own needs when it comes to treatment. What will be found here is a short list of different anxiety disorders as well as a comparison of each one to the others.

1. Social Anxiety Disorder

While many people believe that social anxiety is an extreme form of shyness that is not the case. Social anxiety, often called social phobia, is the intense fear of being judged or scrutinized by those around them and has symptoms that can become severely disruptive to the sufferer’s life. Aside from symptoms such as rapid heart rate and racing thoughts the sufferer might practice avoidance behaviors. They may avoid social situations such as work or parties, and often choose not to have close friends or be in romantic relationships.

2. Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a bit different from its specific anxiety disorder neighbors in the fact that these symptoms can rear their head at any moment. The symptoms of panic disorder are nearly identical to other anxiety disorders such as dizziness, sweating, and rapid heart rate. The difference being that there doesn’t have to be a tangible cause for the onset of symptoms to occur. Panic attacks are also a symptom of panic disorder, with this symptom lasting minutes or longer. There is an “evil cycle” effect when it comes to panic attacks and panic disorder as often times the sufferer will worry about having another panic attack. This in turn can heighten the anxiety they may already be feeling which can lead to a longer episode and deeper rooted fear.

3. Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (which we will get to next) are very similar. Both stem from witnessing a traumatic event, such as someone dying, and can disrupt the sufferer’s life to a great extent. The biggest difference between acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder is the duration. With acute stress disorder the sufferer will experience symptoms such as dissociation and flashbacks, as well as avoidance behaviors, but these symptoms are short-lived.

4. Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also referred to as PTSD, is the big brother to acute stress disorder. PTSD sufferers have either experienced or witnessed a severely traumatic event and continue to re-live that experience often. One of the major symptoms of PTSD is that the sufferer can feel that they are literally living through the event again through flashback and nightmares. PTSD is very disruptive to the sufferer’s daily life and can cause them to avoid people and places, sometimes leaving them with such strong anxiety that they refuse to leave their house for long periods of time. A PTSD sufferer can also react violently to any stimulus or situation that triggers a flashback or dissociative episode and can have little to no recollection of their actions after the event has passed. It is important to remember that those with PTSD are not inherently violent individuals and don’t need to be feared. Understanding their symptoms and speaking with them about the best course of action to assist them with those symptoms is key in helping the sufferer and those around them.

5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also called OCD, has a “give away name” meaning that the anxiety is explained by the name itself. An OCD sufferer will have something that they obsess over that causes them to become compulsive in their actions. A sufferer might fear that they will leave their house unlocked and someone will steal their belongings, the person might think about this scenario constantly and in turn start to obsess over it. This obsession will lead them to a compulsion, in this case it would more than likely cause the sufferer to check their door to make sure that it is locked before they leave for work or the store. This might seem innocuous since we all tend to check the door before we leave but someone with OCD might check that lock twenty times before they walk away. Checking the lock so many times can lead the person to be late for something important, like their job, which could lead to them being written up or fired. The symptoms of OCD can become very disruptive to the sufferer’s life as well as the lives of their friends and family.
As a reminder, this is just a short list of different anxiety disorders. There are many more out there and each one is unique in symptoms and in treatment. Anxiety, to be treated, must be diagnosed by a health care professional and monitored throughout any treatment process. Treatments range anywhere from behavioral modification therapy, exposure therapy, anti-anxiety and depression medications, sedatives, and in very extreme cases hospitalization. Early intervention is key as many of these anxieties have symptoms that can be extremely disruptive to daily life and relationships.

Other reading from Psych2Go:

Anxiety: The Ultimate Survival Guide for Dummies
Manifestations of Trauma: The Relationship Between PTSD and Eating Disorders

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