Anxiety and stress are things that we are hearing more and more about these days. Stress is the response that we have to difficult and unpleasant situations and to being in positions where our safety is under threat. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a debilitating feeling of anxiousness that interferes with your physical and mental wellbeing and impairs your ability to perform day to day tasks.
There are many different types of anxiety disorder, and each one has its own diagnostic criteria and its own symptoms. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists five major kinds of anxiety disorder, which are:1
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Social Phobia
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder refers to a condition where people have regular, and difficult to control, worries about things in their day to day lives. There are a lot of different potential symptoms of anxiety, and this means that GAD can be quite a broad and general diagnosis. The UK mental health charity MIND notes that GAD is a very common condition and that the symptoms of the condition can vary from person to person. What works for one person in terms of coping with anxiety may not work for others.2
Generalized anxiety disorder can leave people feeling dizzy, light headed and restless, can contribute to headaches, backache and other general aches and pains, and can even cause shortness of breath and chest pains. Anxiety sufferers can struggle with social situations, and with their work, because the overwhelming feeling that they have can make it difficult for them to want to be around people, and make it hard for them to take on a day to day tasks.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a debilitating condition that can affect people from all walks of life, but that is often misunderstood. You have probably heard people describe themselves as OCD because they like their desk clean, or notice when tiles are out of alignment on a wall. While that statement is meant in jest, it shows a lack of understanding about what people with real OCD are going through.
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Obsessive thoughts are something that most people will struggle with at some point in their life, but OCD is a disorder which means that the obsession becomes intrusive and triggers extreme anxiety. Someone with OCD might be unable to leave the house because they keep returning to check and recheck that the lights were turned off. They may wash their hands for extremely long periods of time, or they may be hoarders because they worry that if they throw something out they may need it in the future.3
What is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a form of anxiety which means that the sufferer experiences severe panic attacks. They may find that the attacks strike without warning, or that there could be a clear trigger. When a panic attack happens, the sufferer will experience a sudden surge of symptoms. For someone to be diagnosed as having panic attacks, they need to suffer from attacks that include four or more of the following symptoms.
- Racing heartbeat
- Feeling faint
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Hot flushes
- Dry mouth
- Numbness or a sensation of pins and needles
- Need to urinate
- Feeling of dread
- Ringing in your ears
- Churning stomach
- Feeling of disconnectedness
Panic disorder can be incredibly debilitating. Most panic attacks will last for just 5 to 20 minutes, but others can last longer. Because panic attacks can come on suddenly and are so distressing, some people find themselves caught in a vicious cycle, where the panic attack leaves them feeling anxious, and because they are anxious about having another panic attack, they are actually more likely to have one.4
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that is stereotypically associated with the military, police, ambulance workers and others who are exposed to difficult and traumatic situations. It can affect people who work in more mundane jobs, however, if that person goes through something difficult in their day to day life. People who have overwhelming, frightening or difficult experiences may find that they struggle with PTSD after the event.
Most people will recover from the experience over time. Some people need to talk to a counselor or therapist to work through any feelings associated with the event. In some cases, though, a traumatic experience could set off thoughts and feelings that a person may struggle with for months or even years after the event.
PTSD can include flashbacks and nightmares, a constant feeling of hypervigilance, and also avoidant behaviors or numbing, where someone becomes withdrawn and uncommunicative, and throws themselves into a hobby, or into their work, to try to avoid reliving the experience.
PTSD is better understood now than it was a few years ago, and there is support available for people who are struggling with the disorder. It can take some time to work through the condition, and the more disturbing the experience that triggered it, the longer it may take to recover. It is possible to recover, however, and to go back to being able to lead a relatively normal life.5
What is Social Phobia?
Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is a condition which leads people to feel intense fear of being judged or rejected in social situations. People who have mild social anxiety may simply appear anxious, and blush or struggle to speak coherently. Those who have social phobias may be fearful of being judged as stupid or awkward, and as a result, opt to avoid situations where they need to be around people or perform in public. When such a situation is unavoidable, they experience anxiety and distress.
There are around 15 million adults in America that suffer from social anxiety disorder, making it the most commonly diagnosed condition in the anxiety family, behind specific phobias.6 Most people who develop this disorder do so in their teenage years and suffered from extreme shyness when they were children. If left untreated, social anxiety disorder can have a huge impact on a person’s life. Fewer than 5% of people who have social anxiety disorder seek treatment in the first year after the onset of symptoms, and more than a third of sufferers wait for ten years or more before seeking advice.
Coping With Anxiety
The above are the most common kinds of anxiety disorders. There are other types, as well as sub-types of these disorders, where the sufferer may report only a handful of the symptoms, but find that the condition causes problems with their health. If you are suffering from anxiety, then it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, because they will be able to put your mind at ease by giving you a diagnosis and refer you to a specialist for help if necessary.
There are also self-care strategies that you can use to make it a little easier to deal with your anxiety. Living a healthy lifestyle is an important part of beating stress and anxiety. Small changes such as getting regular exercise, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, and making sure to get enough sleep can have a large impact on how you feel each day.
It is also important to learn how to switch off and forget about work and other stresses when you are at home. Make time for yourself and your family, and try to enjoy some time where you are not thinking about things that are perhaps out of your control. Some people benefit from mindfulness practice, gratitude meditation, yoga, massage, and aromatherapy. Some people find that their version of meditation is playing a sport. Try to figure out what works for you, and then make some time to practice it on a regular basis. Whether that’s having a day where you turn your phone off and just relax, or it’s spending some time every morning doing some yoga, it will help you to find your center, and to feel better both physically and mentally.