“Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.” —National Institute of Mental Health
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a condition characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people most people experience. People with GAD usually expect the worst. They worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even when there are no signs of trouble. They are unable to relax and often suffer from insomnia. Sometimes the source of worry is hard to pinpoint. Simply the thought of getting through the day provokes anxiety. Many people with GAD also have physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, irritability or hot flashes. People with GAD may feel light-headed or out of breath. They also may feel nauseated or have to go to the bathroom frequently. Nearly 3% of the adult US population age 18 to 54 has GAD during the course of a given year. GAD most often strikes in childhood or adolescence, but can also begin in adulthood. It affects women more often than men, may run in families and may also grow worse with stress. GAD often coexists with depression, substance abuse and other anxiety disorders. Irritable bowel syndrome often accompanies GAD. Treatment for GAD includes medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Panic disorders cause the person to suffer from brief intense attacks of terror or apprehension, often marked by trembling, shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing. The APA defines panic attacks as fear or discomfort that abruptly arises and peaks in less than ten minutes, can least for several hours and can be triggered by stress, fear, or even exercises; although specific causes are not always apparent. What creates the disorder is the chronic worry over the attack’s potential implications, persistent fear of future attacks, or significant changes in behavior related to the attacks. Those who suffer from panic disorder experience symptoms even outside of specific panic episodes. Often normal changes in heartbeat are noticed by the panic sufferer and they believe there is something wrong with their heart or they are about to have another panic attack. In some cases, hyper-vigilance of body functioning occurs during panic attacks, whereby any perceived physiological change is interpreted as a possible life threatening illness.
Phobias are probably the most widely known of the anxiety disorders. We chuckle at Monk as TV’s phobic detective and most of us don’t like bugs, or snakes or spiders or even find clowns creepy but when taken to extreme becomes irrational, intense, persistent fear of certain situations, activities or people. The main symptom of the disorder is an excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. When the fear is out of one’s control, and if the fear is interfering with daily life, the fear becomes a phobia.
Separation Anxiety is the feeling of excessive and inappropriate levels of anxiety over being separated from a person or place. Separation anxiety itself is a normal part of development in babies or children, and it is only when this feeling is excessive or inappropriate that it can be diagnosed as a disorder. Separation anxiety affects roughly 7% of adults and 4% of children, but the childhood cases tend to be more severe, in some instances even a brief separation can produce panic.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of disorder that is primarily characterized by repetitive obsessions (distressing, persistent, and obtrusive thoughts or images) and compulsions (urges to perform specific acts or rituals). The OCD though pattern may be likened to superstitions insofar as it involves a belief in a causative relationship where, in reality, one does not exist. Often the process is entirely illogical; for example, the compulsion of walking in a certain pattern may be employed to alleviate the obsession of impending harm. In many cases, the compulsion is entirely inexplicable, simply an urge to complete a ritual triggered by nervousness.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to one or more traumatic events that threatened or caused great physical harm such as rape, war, major accidents, or kidnapping/ car jacking. It is a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to an extreme psychological trauma. These stressors may involve someone’s actual death, a threat to the patient’s or someone else’s life, serious physical injury, an unwanted sexual act, or a threat to physical or psychological integrity, overwhelming psychological defenses.
PTSD is a more chronic and less frequent consequence of trauma than the normal acute stress response. Diagnostic symptoms include re-experiencing original trauma(s), through flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma; and increased arousal, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. For a diagnosis of PTSD the DSM IV states it must last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important area of functioning.