During times of stress, we can all suffer from anxiety. However, if the anxiety persists or becomes severe it is an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in America. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders affect around 20 percent of the population at any given time. These disorders can be difficult to recognize and many do not seek help because they do not realize they have a problem or are too ashamed to seek treatment. It is important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Medication or therapy can lessen symptoms. These are the four most common forms of anxiety disorders.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden feelings of terror. The symptoms of a panic attack may include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and upset stomach. Some people will avoid going to places or situations that caused a panic attack out of fear that it will happen again. This is agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia will often avoid places with large crowds where they feel immediate escape might be difficult.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, people may feel anxious for some time after the event. Common symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares, being easily startled or scared, emotional numbness, anger, and irritability. These symptoms can last for weeks, months, or in the most severe cases, years. According to the ADAA, 7.7 million American adults suffer from PTSD and 67 percent of those who experience mass violence are likely to suffer from PTSD. Trauma survivors who suffer from PTSD have problems with trust and communication, which affects their ability to have close relationships with friends and family.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People with OCD suffer from intrusive thoughts that they cannot get out of their heads (obsessions), which may cause them to perform behaviors and routines repeatedly (compulsions) to ease their anxiety. Some sufferers of OCD have specific compulsions that they must perform throughout the day in order to ease their anxiety that something bad will happen to them or a loved one. Some obsessions may include worry about dirt and germs, excessive concern about order and arrangements, or fear that negative thoughts or impulses will cause harm to themselves or others. Some compulsions may include repeatedly cleaning one’s hands or household items, hoarding, touching and arranging, or inability to stop repeating a phrase or activity.
A phobia is an irrational fear of a situation that really poses no threat or very little threat of danger. Many of us do not like spiders or flying, but the difference between these normal fears and those experienced by a person with a specific phobia is the intensity of the fear response and the level of dysfunction that it causes in their life. This fear can be disabling because people who suffer from phobias will go out of their way to avoid situations involving their phobia. There are five subsets of phobias: fear of animals, fear of natural environment, fear of blood/injections/injury, fear of situations, and other fears. The other fears category can include fear of death by illness or fear of bodily sensations. Symptoms often include sweating, a feeling of imminent danger or death, nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or the feeling of smothering, or the desire for immediate escape.
Do Not Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Please know that if you are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety disorders that you are not alone. It can be embarrassing to ask for help, but it is important that you do seek treatment. Anxiety disorders are more common than you think and medication may be all you need to get back to your life.