Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
That’s almost one in five people. Anxiety disorders are very treatable, however, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. It is important to recognize the disorder to treatment can be established.
But anxiety comes in many forms, and not all people experience it the same way.
The core characteristic of anxiety is feeling fearful, worried, or tense in situations that would not cause distress for most people. Aside from that similarity, the different types of anxiety can appear very distinct from each other.
Most anxiety falls into one of the following 6 categories.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with a generalized anxiety disorder (abbreviated GAD) worry excessively about everything. Health, finances, and performance at work or school are a few things that people with GAD are especially likely to feel anxious about. GAD can make people fear the worst in any situation, even when there is no rational reason to do so.
People with GAD may feel constantly on edge like they’re waiting for something bad to happen. This persistent, exaggerated worrying can eventually interfere with relationships and responsibilities. GAD may develop in childhood or adulthood. It is believed that this disorder can arise as a result of stressful events, genetic factors, or both. Some of the most common physical symptoms of GAD are muscle tension, fatigue, and headaches.
Someone with panic disorder suffers from recurring panic attacks, which are intense and unexpected episodes of fear and anxiety. Symptoms of a panic attack may include the following:
- Heart palpitations
- Cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
- A feeling of detachment or dissociation
- Chest pain or tightness
Often, people with panic disorder fear having another panic attack, especially in public. People who suffer from panic disorder may have trouble functioning normally in day-to-day life, especially if they avoid going out in public or being in social situations for fear of having a panic attack there. Panic disorder has a high comorbidity rate with agoraphobia.
Social anxiety is a form of anxiety triggered by interactions with other people. People who are socially anxious may feel very nervous, shy, or self-conscious in social situations.
They often avoid drawing attention to themselves and are overly sensitive to perceived criticism or rejection. Social anxiety can cause people to restrict their interpersonal interactions, avoid speaking in classes or meetings, or constantly seek reassurance from others. Physical symptoms of social anxiety may include blushing, trembling, or a racing heart.
A phobia is an irrational, extreme fear or aversion triggered by a specific object or situation. Phobias may be related to situations, such as being on an airplane or in an enclosed space; animals, such as snakes or spiders; or medical procedures like injections, among other things.
People with phobias will go to great lengths to avoid the thing or situation that they are afraid of. Exposure to the object of a phobia can trigger feelings of extreme fear or anxiety and impair a person’s ability to function until the source of the fear is removed. It is common for people to have more than one phobia.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, often called OCD, is a condition that causes persistent, repetitive thoughts and a compulsive desire to perform certain actions over and over. These thoughts and actions are usually rooted in anxiety.
People with OCD may have obsessive thoughts about germs, orderliness, or religious ideas. It’s also common for OCD to cause intrusive thoughts about sex, self-harm, or aggression towards others.
Common compulsions for OCD sufferers include hand-washing, checking things repeatedly (for instance, making sure a door is locked), counting things, or arranging things in a specific way.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (abbreviated PTSD) is a mental disorder caused by a frightening event. Wartime experiences, car crashes, sexual assault, and other violent or terrifying occurrences can cause PTSD.
Most people recover from such events and are able to live normally afterward, but people with PTSD develop severe anxiety as a result of the trauma. PTSD can cause vivid, intrusive memories of the traumatic event, nightmares, and extreme adverse reactions to situations that bring up memories of the trauma. PTSD can also cause major changes in mood and outlook, including feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, and a lack of positive emotions.
Anxiety can look very different from person to person, but all the types of anxiety have something in common: they can diminish a person’s happiness and make day-to-day living more difficult.
If you think you have anxiety, take the first step towards reclaiming your life and see a doctor or a therapist. Anxiety is manageable, and a variety of treatment options exist, including meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications.
By facing your anxiety and finding a treatment that works for you, you’ll be able to live a fuller, happier life.