More kids and adults suffer from anxiety disorders than any other psychiatric illness. Some 40 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, but only about one-third get treatment. The good news is there are very effective treatments, like therapy, meditation and medication. Visit the Exploring Twelve Pathways section for more information on treatments.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) has identified five main types of anxiety disorder:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Those of us with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience constant, excessive and unrealistic worry and tension about everyday things. We worry constantly and expect the worst about money, health, family, work or just getting through the day. This worrying goes on every day, possibly all day. It disrupts social activities and interferes with our work, school or family. GAD is diagnosed when we worry excessively about everyday problems for at least six months.
With GAD, we don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and it feels like it’s beyond our control, even though we usually realize our anxiety is worse than the situation calls for.
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely to be affected. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin at any age, although it most often begins in teens or young adults. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes GAD, but they think biology, family background and stressful life experiences all play a role.
When our anxiety level is mild, those of us with GAD can deal with work, family, and social situations well enough. When anxiety is severe, we can struggle with even the simplest daily activities.
Physical symptoms of GAD include the following:
- Muscle tension
- Trouble sleeping
- Stomach discomfort or diarrhea
To learn more about GAD, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America website or view the video below.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER
Almost everyone feels a little anxious when we meet a group of strangers or speak to a crowd. But for those of us with social anxiety disorder, even everyday social situations are extremely stressful. We fear we’re constantly being looked at and judged by others. We’re terrified that we’ll humiliate or embarrass ourselves.
We know the fear is excessive, but we feel powerless to control it. It can interfere with daily routines, friendships, school and work life, even romantic relationships. It can make us feel powerless, alone and ashamed.
About 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder. It usually starts affecting people around 13 years old. Thirty-six percent of us with social anxiety disorder had symptoms for 10 or more years before we sought help. But help is available.
To learn more about social anxiety disorder, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America website.
OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
Those of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) suffer from unwanted and intrusive thoughts that we can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions). We often do things over and over (compulsions) to try and ease our anxiety.
Most of us realize that our obsessions and compulsions make no sense, yet we feel powerless to stop them. These compulsions can interfere with our normal routine, schoolwork, job, family or social activities. Trying to concentrate on daily activities may be difficult. Without treatment, OCD can interfere with every aspect of life.
Obsessions — unwanted, intrusive thoughts
- Constant, irrational worry about dirt, germs or contamination
- Excessive concern with order, arrangement or symmetry
- Fear that negative or aggressive thoughts or impulses will hurt us or someone we love
- Fear of losing or throwing away objects with little or no value
- Excessive concern about injuring someone else, whether accidentally or on purpose
- Feeling overly responsible for the safety of others
- Distasteful religious and sexual thoughts or images
- Excessive, irrational doubts
Compulsions — ritualistic behaviors and routines to ease anxiety or distress
- Cleaning — Repeatedly washing our hands, bathing or cleaning household items, often for hours at a time
- Checking — Checking and re-checking that doors are locked, the stove is turned off, the hairdryer is unplugged, and so on, sometimes hundreds of times a day.
- Repeating — Helplessly repeating a name, phrase or simple activity (such as going through a doorway) over and over)
- Hoarding — Difficulty throwing away useless items such as old newspapers or magazines, bottle caps or rubber bands
- Touching and arranging things
- Mental rituals — Endless reviewing of conversations, counting; repetitively calling up “good” thoughts to neutralize “bad” thoughts or obsessions; excessive praying and using special words or phrases to fight our obsessions
To learn more about OCD, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America website.
PANIC DISORDER & AGORAPHOBIA
Those of us with panic disorder experience panic attacks out of the blue, sometimes even while we’re asleep. If we usually experience those panic attacks in public places, it’s called agoraphobia. We often live in fear of another panic attack. The good news is that very effective treatments are available.
About six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year. It usually develops in early adulthood, and women are twice as likely as men to have a panic disorder.
Some of us with panic disorder are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including our doctors and loved ones, since we don’t want to be labeled a hypochondriac. Instead we suffer in silence, pulling away from friends, family and others who could help and support us.
A panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear that reaches a peak within a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- A feeling of imminent danger or doom
- The need to escape
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
- A feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- A sense of things being unreal; depersonalization
- A fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- A fear of dying
- Tingling sensation
- Chills or heat flush
To learn more about panic attacks and agoraphobia, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America website.
POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious condition that can affect those of us who have gone through or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assaults like rape, or other traumatic events.
Most people who experience a traumatic event recover from them, but those of us with PTSD continue to feel badly depressed and anxious for months or even years afterward.
Women are twice as likely to have PTSD as men, and children can also develop it. PTSD often occurs with depression, substance abuse or other anxiety disorders.
Those of us with PTSD show three main symptoms:
- Flashbacks and nightmares that force us to re-experience the trauma.
- Feeling emotionally numb and avoiding places, people and activities that remind us of the trauma.
- Trouble sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
To learn more about PTSD, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America website.
New places, high bridges and old elevators may make all of us a bit uneasy or even frightened. We might try to avoid things that make us uncomfortable, but most people control their fears and get through the day.
But some of us have strong, irrational fear reactions called phobias. Our phobia may strike when we’re around a place, situation, or object, or even when we think we might be around it. We work hard to avoid what we’re afraid of, even though we know there’s no real threat or danger. The fear may not make any sense, but we feel powerless to fight it.
Phobias usually focus on animals, insects, heights, thunder, driving, public transportation, flying, dental or medical procedures, and elevators. Having phobias can disrupt daily routines, interfere with school or work, make us feel bad about ourselves, and put a strain on our relationships, because we’ll do anything we can to avoid the uncomfortable and often terrifying feelings of phobic anxiety.
While some phobias develop in childhood, most seem to come up without warning in teenagers or young adults. Phobias may come up in situations where we felt fine before.
To learn more about specific phobias, visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America website or click on the video below.
The Truth About Anxiety Disorder
Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder
*These videos and links will give you access to information not produced by Methodist Healthcare.