Having a certain amount of anxiety from time to time, especially as difficulties happen in life, is a common experience. When a patient suffers from an anxiety disorder, however, these feelings are amplified, even when stressors are things that others might not even notice.
Anxiety sufferers do not need to think that they are alone, though they might. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million individuals in the U.S. suffer from anxiety in a given year.
Less than 40 percent of those who suffer from anxiety get help with it, however. Understanding the range of anxiety disorders out there and spreading awareness is essential in ensuring that more patients get the help they need.
When defining anxiety, it can be helpful to clarify what anxiety is not. Those suffering from an anxiety disorder do not have the run-of-the-mill worries and concerns any of us might. After all, it is quite common to have a concern now and then and worry a bit about in certain areas of life.
Those with anxiety are also not trying to make a dramatic scene or control others, either. Unfortunately, family and friends sometimes dismiss those with anxiety as overly indulgent, which is far from the case. Anxiety disorders are real mental health disorders with real symptoms.
A patient suffering from an anxiety disorder has symptoms that interfere with their quality of life and ability to get things done. Anxiety episodes can interfere with someone's ability to work or even just get errands done.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several different anxiety disorders, which share various characteristics. The symptoms coalesce in different ways, however, from one anxiety disorder to the next. Common anxiety disorders include Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, also known as GAD.
The main differentiators between these disorders is in how the patient reacts to stressors and triggers. A mental health professional can assess the patient's reactions to determine a diagnosis. A patient can experience one or more of these various types of anxiety disorders. With the right intervention and support, anxiety disorders are treatable.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder involves ongoing worries that interfere with a patient's quality of life in the long term. A diagnosis of GAD is given to a patient whose symptoms are present for the majority of days over at least a six month period. A GAD sufferer can experience anxiety 24 hours in the day.
There are patients who experience acute onset of an anxiety disorder. Those with acute issues can and should receive treatment, but vary from patients experiencing GAD.
In GAD, a patient the reaction to a trigger can last long after the problem has been removed from their life. Patients, too, can get nervous about their own nervous reactions, compounding the problem. Physical symptoms can include short breath, an increased heart rate, and excessive perspiration.
Biological Drivers & GAD
While research is ongoing, many experts believe there may be a genetic driver behind GAD. The genes behind the disorder have not been identified yet. This lines up with the patient experience in which there often seems as if there is no specific, external cause of the symptoms.
Experts believe that a little under 7 million people suffer from GAD in a given year. This translates into a bit more than 3 percent of the US population. Anyone experiencing symptoms similar to a Generalized Anxiety Disorder should learn more about the disorder and its symptoms and contact a professional for help.
Only a mental health professional can provide diagnoses for disorders such as GAD. Getting to know the symptoms of the disorder, however, can help patients begin to understand what may be going on. Symptoms of GAD can include:
Mental and Emotional Symptoms
A feeling of dread or doom
An inability to stop perseverating
Edgy, jittery mood
An inability to concentrate
Poor decision making skills
Strong scare reaction
Shivering or trembling
Muscle tightness or soreness
Nausea or other stomach issues
Rapid heart rate
Shortness of breath
Symptoms in Children and Teens
Excessive focus on apocalyptic events
Excessive need to be early or perform well
Tendency toward perfectionism
Excessive need for approval from adults
Treatment for GAD can include therapy, medication, or a combination thereof. CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is one popular therapeutic intervention. This approach helps a patient learn to manage their reactions to triggers. The patient works with the therapist in session to develop and hone these tools. Medical interventions include beta blockers, antidepressants, anxiolytics, buspirone, and more.
Panic disorder involves the acute onset of feelings of dread and anxiety along with physical symptoms such as increased heart rate or labored breathing. Panic attacks are different and not a disorder themselves, but can be present in an array of mental health disorders. In Panic Disorder, panic attacks are one of the main symptoms. The patient can also perseverate about how often panic attacks happen in their day-to-day-life. All of this can cause someone with a panic disorder to change their lives in order to avoid triggers.
While many think of agoraphobia as a fear of leaving the house, it is a disorder that involves the fear of losing control in a variety of situations. Patients often leave the house but are triggered in places such as long lines or on crowded subways. The patient fears that he or she would have no help or control of a setting or situation. A patient with agoraphobia does not need to have panic disorder to have a diagnosis of agoraphobia.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Patients with Social Phobia, also referred to as Social Anxiety Disorder, are triggered by social settings. Social phobia in children must include anxiety with their peers, not just with adults, in order to meet diagnostic criteria. With Social Anxiety Disorder, the individual feels as if all eyes are on him, whether that is the case or not. This anxiety must persist for more than 6 months and interfere with daily life to qualify for diagnosis. Those suffering from social phobia may anticipate disaster in social scenarios and avoid triggers.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
An individual with separation anxiety disorder fears any separation from certain individuals with whom they are closely bonded. These individuals may also fear being left alone. Diagnostic criteria requires the presence of symptoms for at least 6 months in adults and at least one month in children.
Specific Mutism involves a refusal to speak in certain settings, even when the individual is otherwise able to speak. Diagnostic criteria require that the symptoms be present for at least four weeks in adults.
Patients with specific phobia experience extreme anxiety or even fear in response to a certain stimulus that is out of proportion to the realities or threat of the situation. Symptoms must persist for six months or more to meet diagnostic criteria. Exposure therapy is often a good intervention for these patients, exposing the slowly and systematically to the trigger.