The way anxiety manifests varies from person to person as each of us is biologically unique, as are our life experiences. With all of this variation, anxiety disorders do fall into several distinct categories. Some of the most common are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and phobias.
Social anxiety is much more than just shyness. The world is comprised of people who are extroverts, and those that are introverts, and most are somewhere in the middle. Being naturally shy does not mean you have social anxiety. Some people just don’t enjoy being the center of attention, and are content with a few close relationships.
Social anxiety is one of several anxiety disorders that is characterized by an intense fear of being watched and judged by those around you. It causes a person to fear social settings, meeting new people, and feel very uncomfortable around people, even those they already know. This fear can interfere significantly with daily life often making work and school very difficult. One of the challenges of living with social anxiety is the way it limits a person’s ability to make and keep close relationships. Family and friends provide an important support system, and those with an anxiety disorder benefit greatly from this type of support.
Most people are familiar with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is most commonly associated with military combat veterans. While this portion of our society is at a high risk for developing PTSD, they are not the only ones. Anyone that endures a traumatic event can develop this disorder. Some other common events that can lead to PTSD are being a victim of a violent crime such as rape, or assault, car accidents or witnessing a crime or an accident.
When exposed to a significant trauma our brains are kicked into an automatic response for dealing with the situation – fight, flight or freeze. This response is helpful in the moment but can be very difficult if it lingers. Someone suffering from PTSD is often mentally living as if that tragic event is still happening. They can become very fearful and overwhelmed by the mental and physical response to these memories.
Persons suffering from panic disorder experience panic attacks, or anxiety attacks, when faced with certain triggers in their daily life. These triggers can be just about anything that cause a feeling of fear in the individual. Some examples of these are situations that could present as potentially dangerous, but usually are a minor risk in everyday life, such as heights, crowds, driving, elevators, public speaking, etc.
An anxiety attack, or panic attack, is an intense physical sensation that prevents, or severely hinders, a person from continuing with the immediate task at hand. This feeling can include a racing heart rate, sweating, shaking, trembling, extreme butterflies in the stomach, difficulty breathing, and lightheadedness. These feelings, while intense, usually dissipate fairly quickly. The worry of experiencing an attack of this nature may lead a person to avoid settings where they are likely to occur, thus further limiting their ability to function in daily life.
Phobias are irrational fears that hinder enjoyment of everyday life. They can range from a mild aversion to extreme, debilitating fear. Phobias can begin as a reasonable response to a negative element, such as an angry dog, or a large spider. They become a phobia when the fear and related response grow out of proportion to the perceived threat. While a 5 inch black widow spider crawling on your face warrants an extreme reaction, a ½ inch daddy long legs spider on the window does not. Phobias are a mental disorder classified under anxiety disorders and can be treated effectively by many mental health care professionals. There are several treatment options available such as exposure therapy, CBT, and traditional counseling.
The general population has become more aware of hoarding with the popularity of reality tv shows featuring this mental health disorder. It is more than just someone who has a hard time letting go of stuff. Hoarding is a mental disorder that prevents a person from letting go of items that no longer serve them, and even those that are dangerous, or create a negative environment. Hoarding comes with fear of letting go, and creates a large barrier to social interaction.
The problem of hoarding is not solved by simply tidying up and throwing useless items away. For someone with this mental disorder, they need professional assistance to help them learn healthier ways of coping with their emotions, and learning how to let go of the items they are clinging to. If a loved one steps in and takes care of cleaning up the physical environment without addressing the emotional needs of the individual it can be very traumatic. Treatment from a mental health professional is recommended to help the person not just for the short term immediate physical needs, but for their long term mental health and happiness.
General Anxiety Disorder or GAD, is the diagnosis given when someone presents with signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder, but it does not clearly fall into one of these other diagnosis. An individual suffering from GAD may experience some, or all of the aspects of each other type of an anxiety disorder. They may experience panic attacks, and have difficulty in social settings. They may have primarily physical symptoms without a clear environmental trigger. Or they may experience anxiety mostly as an extreme emotional response. Each person is unique, but there is help available no matter what form the anxiety takes.
Many people who suffer from GAD have found relief through cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This type of therapy focuses on identifying the negative thoughts that lead to anxiety and learning new positive ways to direct those thoughts. It focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors to help the individual experience less anxiety and more contentment in their daily life. If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, you may want to look for a mental health professional that specializes in CBT.