Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorderCan you imagine living every day in constant worry about bills, your family, your job, your looks, your health, your reputation, your future, the world, the government, etc., etc., etc.??  Can you also imagine your life being so filled with dread about an event or an unfortunate circumstance repeating itself or even happening for the first time?  Let’s try another one.  Can you imagine being so afraid of flying that you haven’t seen your grandmother since your high school graduation or you missed your own sister’s wedding?  Can you imagine it or do you live it?  Approximately 18% of adults and 25% of adolescents (ages 13 – 18) suffer from clinical anxiety (National Institute of Mental Health, 2010).  Clinical anxiety can vary across individuals and is also distinguished diagnostically.  The following are some of the most common types of Anxiety Disorders and their symptoms:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – A person with GAD experiences excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance) and may endure some or all of the following: restlessness or feeling “keyed up” or “on edge”; being easily tired; difficulty concentrating or mind “going blank”; irritability; muscle tension or pain; and sleep disturbance.

Panic Disorder (PD) – Someone who suffers from PD experiences panic attacks, which are distinct periods of intense or “rushing” fear with at least four physical or emotional symptoms (e.g., pounding heart or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; shortness of breath or feeling smothered/choking; chest pain or discomfort; nausea or stomach pain; feeling dizzy or lightheaded; fear of dying; fear of losing control; numbness; chills or hot flashes; and feeling “detached” from oneself or reality).  Notably, PD can occur with or without agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape might be difficult or embarrassing.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – People with OCD have obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors.  Obsessive thoughts are usually unwanted, intrusive, and difficult to control.  Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts done in an attempt to reduce anxiety or prevent some dreaded event.  People with OCD realize that their obsessions or compulsions are excessive and unreasonable; they cause great discomfort and interfere with the person’s academic, work, or social life.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Someone with PTSD has been exposed to a traumatic event, to which they responded with fear, helplessness, or horror.  They present with some or all of these signs: recurrent and intrusive trauma thoughts; distressing dreams or flashbacks (triggered by sights, sounds, smells, certain people, or situations); distress at exposure to trauma cues; avoidance of trauma reminders; memory lapses; feelings of detachment from others; sense of loss or hopelessness for the future; difficulty falling or staying asleep; being easily startled or “jumpy”; anger or irritability; difficulty concentrating; emotional “numbness” (especially toward close family).

Phobias – A phobia is a marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable.  It is cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., tests, performing in front of others, flying, heights, animals, seeing blood, etc.).  The person recognizes the fear as unreasonable, but is unable to control their anxious anticipation, distress, or tendency to avoid the feared object or situation.

Individuals may endure other anxieties depending on life experiences and transitions.  For example, one may have an intense fear of failure or success as they near a graduation date, have an intense fear of dying following a family member’s bout of sickness, or experience chronic culture shock when relocating to a new city – to name a few.

If you or someone you know struggles with clinical anxiety, good news…treatment is available!  Qualified counselors can help by uncovering underlying issues to anxiety, offering feedback, suggesting techniques (e.g., relaxation, nutrition and lifestyle changes, promote positive thinking), and providing specific referrals.  Medical doctors can also assess for possible physical causes that may influence or mimic anxiety symptoms.  Psychiatrists can prescribe short-term anti-anxiety medications (following psychological assessment and diagnosis confirmation by a qualified psychologist).  If any of these disorders or symptoms cause impairment in your home life, academic or job environment, or relationships with others, do not hesitate to get the help you need.  You’re not always going to be able to control what goes on outside you, but today can be the day you start to control what happens inside.