It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious when facing a potentially challenging situation. This can be a job presentation, an interview for a job, a difficult exam, or a blind date after not being in a relationship for quite some time.
Anxiety is a natural response to danger. It works as an automatic alarm which alerts you when you feel threatened or facing a stressful situation. Anxiety can help you stay alert and focused. It can also motivate you to solve problems.
But when you frequently feel anxious or when anxiety prevents you from living a normal life you are probably having one or more types of anxiety. Once you are aware of that, you can start by identifying which type of anxiety you have and move to successfully deal with it.
If you let your worries and fears grow out of proportion and deny or ignore your problem, it’ll only become worse. There are different types of anxiety disorders but, fortunately, there are also many effective treatments and self-help practices.
Once you identify and understand your anxiety disorder, there are steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and regain control of your life.
The Five Most Common Types of Anxiety
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is described as excessive anxiety and worry about everyday life events. Sometimes there may be valid concerns but more often than not, there are no obvious reasons for worry.
People with GAD symptoms are prone to expecting disastrous outcomes of most situations they think about. They simply can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. A person with GAD feels anxious most of the time, worrying about lots of different things, for a period of six months or more.
These worries interfere with their normal lives. The fears are intense and persistent. The worries come about daily and their triggers are aspects of everyday life, including work, family, health, financial concerns or facing different decisions or choices.
All these triggers are followed by uncontrollable worries and feeling that all activities will have terrible outcomes. Even going to the bank to cash a cheque or calling a plumber may be perceived as a potential disaster.
You may have GAD if you have the following symptoms on most days for six months or more:
- feeling very worried about a number of events or activities
- finding it hard to stop worrying
- realizing that your anxiety made it difficult for you to do everyday activities
- feeling restless or on edge
- feeling easily tired
- having difficulty concentrating
- feeling irritable
- having muscle tension
- having trouble sleeping
Generalized anxiety disorder is found to affect more women than men. It can occur at any time in life although on average it starts around 30 years of age. It can be diagnosed in all age groups, however, including children and older people.
What are the causes of GAD?
Biological factors- Some changes in brain functioning have been associated with GAD.
Family history – People with GAD often have a history of mental health conditions in their family. This doesn’t mean that you are bound to develop anxiety if your parent or a close relative has had a mental health condition.
Stressful life events – Major life changes that cause stress, such as the birth of a child, the breakdown/loss of a close relationship, or moving house/job. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse can also increase the risk of developing GAD. Other traumatic experiences in childhood, such as the death of or separation from a parent are also risk factors.
Psychological factors – Some personality traits may put a person at greater risk of GAD, including being sensitive, being emotional or experiencing general nervousness, being unable to tolerate frustration, feeling inhibited or being a perfectionist by nature.
GAD can be treated successfully if you seek professional help. There are two main types of effective treatments for GAD: psychological treatments and taking medication in severe cases and as prescribed by your therapist.
Psychological treatments for anxiety – can be done on individual basis or in a group, based on the circumstances, the severity of the disorder and preferences.
Effective types of therapy are:
CBT – Cognitive behavior therapy
This psychological treatment recognizes that the way we think (cognition) and act (behavior) affects the way we feel.
CBT involves working with a therapist to identify thought and behavior patterns which are either making you more likely to become anxious, or stopping you from getting better when you’re experiencing anxiety.
Once you’ve recognized any patterns that are contributing to your anxiety, you can make changes to replace these with new patterns that reduce anxiety and improve your anxiety managing skills.
CBT helps by teaching you to think more realistically rather than expect catastrophic outcomes. It is also oriented towards problem-solving. If you actively avoid situations or things that cause anxiety, CBT can help you face your worries or fears and deal with situations that cause these worries in a more rational and positive way.
Professionals may use a range of techniques in CBT. Examples include:
- encouraging you to recognize the difference between productive and unproductive worries
- teaching you how to let go of worries and solve problems
- teaching you relaxation and breathing techniques to control anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension
Most of us sometimes feel nervous in social situations. Attending a job interview or giving presentations at work or at college, speaking in public, giving a toast at weddings, going to a party where we hardly know anyone can all be stressful situations.
But if you’re so afraid of interacting with other people that it affects your relationships with them or affects your work or school performance, you probably have social anxiety disorder or, in other words, social phobia.
A common characteristic of this type of anxiety is that people feel the fear of being embarrassed, criticized or humiliated, not just at important events, but also in everyday situations, such as speaking publicly, eating in public, or even making small talk to work colleagues, acquaintances, and friends.
Some of the physical signs of social phobia include stomach aches, sweating or feeling hot flashes, feeling like your heart is racing, feeling tightness in your chest, shallow breathing, feeling tense or feeling shaky.
The people with social anxiety disorder feel like they will say or do the wrong thing and, that other people will look down on them or think less of them because they’re perceived as strange or even plain stupid.
Some people with social anxiety disorder fear one while others may fear a wide range of social situations. Most adults with social anxiety disorder recognize that they feel too anxious, but they are simply not able to control it.
As a result, they may avoid certain fields of study or careers or even drop out of school in the first place and deny themselves good education and a possibly successful career because of their social phobia.
If they finish school and get a job, they will often avoid contributing their ideas, refuse promotions or take many days off because they feel anxious.
As you can see, social anxiety disorder can have a very negative effect on your well-being and quality of life. This is a mental illness which can cause a lot of problems in your relationships with partners, family and friends.
It can also seriously affect your school or work life. That is why you need to take steps in order to overcome your social phobia and make your life better and more enjoyable and productive.
Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders. It is also one of the most common mental illnesses altogether and about 8% of people feel symptoms of social phobia at some point in their life.
Without treatment, social anxiety disorder can last for a long time unless you seek help from therapists, your friends and family.
A mental health professional trained in CBT can help you work through the thoughts or beliefs and behaviors that lead to your social anxiety. CBT helps by teaching you skills to build confidence in social situations. You can also learn how to interact with people and maintain relationships. CBT is usually a short-term treatment but highly efficient if you regularly practice and implement skills you learn in therapy.
With the guidance of a qualified therapist, you gradually take small, planned steps which will finally help you to overcome your fear from certain social interactions and situations. Gradual exposure can be a very effective treatment for many different phobias, including social phobia.
Anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants prescribed by your doctor can be used in combination with counseling or exposure to reduce your body’s response to anxiety.
Joining anxiety disorder support groups (in person or online) is another helpful way to share your experiences and learn from the experiences of others.
Finally, as with all mental health disorders, regular exercise, eating well, managing stress, spending time with friends and family, spirituality, and avoiding alcohol or drugs can help keep anxiety from getting worse and lead to improvement of your condition.
Shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and excessive sweating are all signs of a panic attack. Panic disorder is an intense and often uncontrollable feeling of anxiety combined with a range of physical symptoms.
When you are having a panic attack, you will mostly think they it’s a heart attack and that you are about to die. Fortunately, nobody has ever died of a panic attack. But you need to recognize that you have a panic disorder and start treatments.
Panic attacks are mostly brief, less than 10 minutes long episodes of uncontrollable fear and anxiety. Some of the symptoms may persist for a longer time. People who have had one panic attack are at greater risk for having more panic attacks.
When the attacks occur repeatedly, there is worry about having more episodes and the fear of the next attack settles in and needs to be dealt with.
About 6 million adults in the U.S. are affected by panic attacks and women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition.
It may develop as a result of major life changes such as getting married, having a child, starting a new job, moving house etc. There is some evidence that suggests that the tendency to develop panic disorder may run in families.
People who suffer from panic disorder are more likely to suffer from depression, and/or to abuse alcohol or drugs. Attempting suicide is the worst possible outcome so everyone should take panic attacks seriously and get help.
Fortunately, panic disorder is a treatable condition and the outcomes are positive.
Psychotherapy and medications have both been used for successful treatment of panic disorder. If medication is necessary, your doctor will prescribe anti-anxiety medications, certain antidepressants or certain anticonvulsant drugs that also have anti-anxiety properties. This is all individual and your doctor will decide what will work for you.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This can happen after a person experiences a traumatic event such as fighting in a war, being assaulted, being in a car accident, experiencing devastating effects of a natural disaster etc.
The symptoms often include difficulty relaxing, upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event and avoidance of anything related to the terrifying event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping with the trauma they have experienced. In time and with good self-care, they usually get better.
However, if the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help you regain control over your life. The primary treatment is psychotherapy, but your doctor can also include medication.
Combining the psychotherapy treatments and appropriate medication can help improve your symptoms by:
- Teaching you skills to address your symptoms
- Learning ways to cope if any symptoms arise again
- Treating other problems often related to traumatic experiences (depression, anxiety, or alcohol or drug abuse)
- Helping you think better about yourself, others and the world
The two most common used therapy methods are:
This type of talk therapy helps you recognize the ways of thinking that are keeping you stuck, such as, negative beliefs about yourself and the risk of the same trauma happening again. For PTSD, cognitive therapy often is used along with exposure therapy.
This behavioral therapy helps you safely face situations and memories that you find frightening. In time you will learn how to cope with them effectively. Exposure therapy can be especially helpful for flashbacks and nightmares.
As for medication, antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds are most commonly used. You and your doctor will work together to figure out the best medication for your symptoms and situation, with the fewest side effects.
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Most people who have OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational. However, they feel powerless to stop them so they may spend a lot of time during the day focusing on obsessive thoughts and performing rituals involving hand-washing, counting, or checking things.
This is their way to prevent anxiety, unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or images. OCD can interfere with a person’s normal life, studying, doing their job, functioning in their family, and doing different social activities.
Learning about this disorder is crucial to finding the right treatment and overcoming OCD symptoms. In addition, getting proper treatment is essential to taking control over the illness and get better.
People with OCD suffer from unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads. These obsessions often make them repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and compulsive routines to try and ease their anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a successful treatment for OCD. It uses two scientifically based techniques to change a person’s behavior and thoughts: exposure and response prevention (ERP) and cognitive therapy.
CBT is conducted by a cognitive-behavioral therapist who has special training in treating OCD and most CBT treatment is conducted at a therapist’s office once a week. The therapist will set exercises to practice at home between sessions.
If your OCD is severe, you might need more frequent sessions. Not all mental health professionals are trained in ERP therapy, so it’s important for you to find one who is.
The first step is for you to describe your obsessions and compulsions. You and the therapist will then arrange them in a list, ordering them from things that don’t bother you much to things that are the most disturbing for you. Next, the therapist will ask you to face your fear of something on your list, starting with the easiest and you will move gradually towards eliminating as many compulsions as possible.
To sum up, all five anxieties we described are treatable. When there’s a will, there’s always a way, so just make the first step towards your recovery and your loved ones will be right beside you.