According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental health disorders in the US. Anxiety can certainly be a normal part of life. In fact, some anxiety can serve us well. However, when anxiety persists in uncontrollable ways and begins to interfere with your daily life, it may be an indication that you have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is an umbrella term for the more specific diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder/Panic attacks, social anxiety, agoraphobia, and other specific phobias. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are closely related and are certainly accompanied by anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD is characterized by persistent and uncontrollable worry, often about the daily aspects of life such as money, relationships, work, or health. Those with generalized anxiety find it difficult to control the worry, often reporting it feels as though they are filled with dread for no discernible reason. GAD can lead to disruptions in sleep, relationships and even physical health.
A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense fear accompanied by physiological symptoms including increased heart rate, change in breathing patterns, upset stomach, dizziness, numbness, etc. Panic attacks occur seemingly out of the blue, with no obvious trigger. Panic Disorder is the ongoing fear of having another panic attack, which can lead to significant avoidance and attempts to control the surrounding environment in order to prevent another panic attack. Examples of those attempts may include not leaving the house, not driving a car, avoiding public places or avoiding physical activity, caffeine, etc.
Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. Those with social anxiety will often avoid situations where they feel they are at risk of this judgement. In children and adolescents, this can impact school significantly. In adults, it might prevent someone from being able to work or engage with others outside of the home.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessions are intrusive, repetitive and disruptive thoughts that cause significant distress. These thoughts may be related to harming others, may be sexual in nature, or may relate to fear of being contaminated. Any content of thought can be considered an obsession if it causes distress in the individual experiencing it and if it persists and interferes with our ability to focus on other things. A compulsion is a behavioral response to those thoughts. It is an attempt to “fix” the thought or make it go away. A compulsion could be checking, washing, tapping, avoiding or thinking a good thought to undo a bad thought. The only way to treat OCD, is through a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention, which involves changing behavioral responses to these intrusive thoughts.