Fear is the emotional response to imminent threat and triggers the fight or flight response in the body. Anxiety is anticipation of a future threat that manifests in muscle tension, vigilance, preparation for danger, and cautious or avoidant behaviors. Anxiety is more than just a feeling. It involves a wide range of physical symptoms that often cause a person to mistake the anxiety for a medical illness. When anxiety is severe, carrying out the simplest daily activities can be unmanageable.
Anxiety disorders are separated into categories such as social anxiety, phobias, PTSD, OCD, Panic Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Learn more about anxiety
People with an anxiety disorder can experience chronic and unsubstantiated worry about any number of things from family to money to work. This unsubstantiated worry often continues every day, all through the day for months and interferes with social interactions and responsibilities. People will often say that they worry about everything and that they know that the worry is unreasonable but they cannot stop. Anxiety sufferers often feel irritable, tense, and find themselves dreading upcoming events or situations and often avoiding situations entirely due to the anxiety.
Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Anticipating the worst
- Watching for signs of danger
- Feeling like your mind has gone blank
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
- Pounding heart
- Stomach upset or dizziness
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Tremors and Twitches
- Muscle Tension
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
Treatment for Anxiety
Therapists use Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Short-term Psychodynamic Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Relaxation training, and other proven techniques to teach people how to manage the excessive worry. In a supportive and comfortable environment you can learn to understand and modify problematic thinking and behavior patterns.
Other methods of treatment may include:
Generalized anxiety disorder, also referred to as GAD, is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about a number of everyday problems for six months or more. GAD affects more than six million adults in the US in any given year, and women are twice as likely to be affected. The exact cause of GAD is unknown but some evidence suggests there are biological factors. Family background and stressful life experiences also play a role in the onset of General Anxiety Disorder.
GAD may be mild to severe. People who experience mild anxiety are able to function socially and may be successful at work. However, they may avoid certain stressful situations. When the anxiety level is severe, carrying out the simplest daily activities can be unmanageable.
General Anxiety Disorder rarely occurs alone. Other disorders that can accompany GAD are obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a broad experience of anxiety and worry.Specific anxiety disorders have a defined cause or catalyst or are manifested in a specific manner or around a specific issue. These related anxiety disorders include:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive and unwarranted worry and anxiety (obsessive) accompanied by repetitive and often ritualistic (compulsive) behaviors in an attempt to reduce the anxiety.These behaviors can be very time consuming and take time away from important life activities. A person may spend hours performing complicated rituals, hand-washing, counting, or checking things in an attempt to control the constant pressure of unwanted worry. People with OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational, but feel powerless over them.
OCD can occur at any age. It is a serious, yet treatable anxiety disorder that often occurs with depression and other anxiety disorders. In 80% of OCD cases, symptoms began to appear before the age of 18. There are between 2 and 3 million adults in the US diagnosed with OCD.
Learn more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
People with OCD have intrusive thoughts or images that bother them. These can be thoughts about making mistakes, harming someone, contamination, disease, religious preoccupation, fears of impulses or desires, or just about anything that you might consider dangerous, disgusting, or dirty. For someone with OCD it can feel like his thoughts are driving him “crazy”. One thought leads to another and thoughts feel tormenting to the person. He searches his brain for hours going over all the possible answers but no answer satisfies the doubts, nothing can reassure and bring peace. The anxiety is intense. Individuals with mental obsessions will try to pick apart their thoughts in order to figure them out and resist them. They can spend hours scrutinizing thoughts. Many people suffering from mental obsessions feel embarrassed by them and may wait years before disclosing their troubling thoughts to anyone, even to close friends or family.
Treatment and Counseling for OCD
If you are concerned about symptoms of OCD, it is important to make an appointment with a therapist and with your physician. Most people who seek treatment will experience significant improvement in their quality of life.
Therapy helps treat the intrusive and consuming thought patterns such as:
- Worry about dirt, germs or contamination
- Excessive concern with arrangement, symmetry or order
- Overwhelming fear of causing actual harm to self or others with negative or aggressive thoughts
- Fear of losing or discarding objects with little or no value
- Fear of injuring others accidentally or purposely
- Feeling overly responsible for the safety of others
- Unsettling religious and sexual thoughts or images
- Doubt or confusion in regards to what is irrational or excessive
Therapy addresses the ritualistic behaviors and routines used to ease anxiety such as:
- Cleaning, washing one’s hands, bathing, wiping or washing items repeatedly
- Checking and rechecking switches, dials, locks, outlets, etc. up to hundreds of times per day to make sure the door is locked, the oven is off, the alarm is set.
- Repeating a name or phrase, or repeating a simple action such as passing through a doorway
- Hoarding or saving useless items like wrappers, magazines or bottle caps
- Touching and arranging
- Mental rituals such as counting, repetitively calling up “good” thoughts to neutralize “bad” thoughts, excessive praying, or repeating special words or phrases to neutralize obsessions
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is an anxiety disorder occurring in people who have experienced or witnessed an extremely serious or life-threatening event. PTSD can be brought on by exposure to war or a natural disaster, sudden death of a loved one, a violent personal assault such as rape, a serious accident, or any traumatic event in which a person perceives a threat of death of serious harm to themselves or another.
PTSD can occur at any time in a person’s life, including childhood. Women are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Approximately 7.7 million people in the US have PTSD. PTSD is often accompanied by depression or other anxiety disorders.
Learn more about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Symptoms and Related Disorders with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
There are three main symptoms of PTSD:
- Re-experiencing the events through repeated and uncontrollable recollections of the event, flashbacks and/or nightmares
- Emotional numbness and avoidance, inability to remember important aspects of the trauma, loss of interest in life, detachment from others
- Increased anxiety and emotional arousal, trouble sleeping, angry outbursts, difficulty concentrating, jumpiness and irritability
How it feels
A person will often experience nightmares, will re-experience the trauma in memories, mental images, sensations, feeling tense or upset when reminded, trying to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma. With untreated PTSD people will often report having seemingly inexplicable emotional outbursts. Other times the person will simply feel numb inside. Having PTSD is described as oppressive, suffocating, ridiculously heavy. Walking around feeling separate from everyone. Meanwhile the person often minimizes the impact that the trauma has had on them.
Treatment and Counseling for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
The sooner PTSD is addressed and treated, the better the outcome. If you are concerned about symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in you or a loved one it is important to seek treatment right away. PTSD will likely get worse if left untreated. Treatments include psychotherapy, medication or a combination of these. Some of the therapeutic approaches utilized in treating PTSD include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,and Exposure and Response Prevention.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is driven by the extreme fear of being criticized, judged and scrutinized by others in a social or performance situation. People with this disorder, also known as social phobia, may be extremely avoidant of social or romantic relationships. The fear and anxiety makes socializing very uncomfortable leaving them feeling powerless, lonely, or ashamed.
Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder. This disorder typically starts around age 13 and 36% of people with the disorder report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking treatment.
Learn more about Social Anxiety Disorder
The anxiety associated with social anxiety disorder can be enormously destructive to daily life making it difficult to hold a job, complete school, maintain friendships and romantic relationships. While people with the disorder recognize their fears as excessive and irrational they feel powerless to control it. A person will dread social situations, feeling that they are certain they will become panicked or appear anxious. It seems certain that others will judge them. In a social situation, a person may feel flushed and turn red, feel like everyone is looking and they can see how you are feeling. Often a person will feel like they want to flee a situation.
In cases when social anxiety disorder begins in children it may manifest in clingy behavior, tantrums and sometime mutism. Other physical symptoms, and symptoms observed in adults include:
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of detachment and loss of self-control
This disorder is often selective and specific. For example some people may be able to talk to a new person without difficulty but may have an intense fear of a person in uniform. Other people may experience extreme anxiety in routine activities such as meetings or dining at a restaurant.
Treatment and Counseling for Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is treatable. Psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two has been found to be effective. A well-trained therapist can help clients with social anxiety disorder learn to understand the excessive and irrational basis for their fears. The therapist teaches relaxation skills and new ways to think about situations and can help clients gain back their confidence. Most people who try psychotherapy with a skilled and experienced therapist find relief from their symptoms.