Chances are good that you or someone who you love has experienced some form of clinical anxiety in their lifetime. Anxiety is a completely normal and healthy feeling that all of us feel at one point or another. But having an anxiety disorder is a lot more than just feeling nervous.
I’ve decided to write about five major types of anxiety disorders. Someone with anxiety can have one, two, three or all of them at once! There are more that I will not discuss today, but that does not mean they are not out there!
Just because you have one Anxiety Disorder does not mean that you can’t have another, in fact many of these disorders kind of bleed into the next so it is not uncommon to develop more than one anxiety disorder.
Think of Anxiety Disorders as an umbrella, and all of these different disorders fall under the same umbrella.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Generalized Anxiety is often described as being in a constant state of worry and feeling of doom or dread that something bad is going to happen. However, oftentimes (not always) people with GAD have a hard time pin pointing exactly what it is they are anxious about, it is more of a constant state of general unease.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts (the obsessive part) and the need to perform repeated tasks or behaviors (the compulsive part). These compulsions can oftentimes become ritualistic in nature, done to temporarily ease the symptoms of intense anxiety and bring a short period of comfort to the person. The term “OCD” get’s thrown around very casually in our current society.
People love to say “Oh my god, I organized my entire closet by color. I am SO OCD!” or “You like to clean your house every other day? You must be OCD!”
The truth is statements like that stigmatize and romanticize OCD. A disorder that is anything but “cute” and “funny”. Only those truly fighting the heavy shackles of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder know how serious and horrible this disorder really can be. Anyone who truly has OCD would never make an offhanded comment or joke about it.
OCD is not organizing your pens by shade, or sweeping your house every day. OCD is having to get up ten times an hour to check that the oven is off, so that you don’t burn down your house and kill your entire family. Or the guy whose hands are red and raw because he has washed them 37 time already today, but still has to open doors with his sleeves covering his hands. OCD is being completely aware that your thoughts and actions are irrational and not actually helpful to your anxiety, but you have.to.do.it.anyways.
Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is defined as someone who has had (is having) multiple unexpected or repeating episodes of severe anxiety accompanied by; feeling of doom or dread, intense fear of dying, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating, fear of “going crazy”, nausea, dizziness, numbness and a general feeling that something horrible is going to happen.
Panic attacks are very scary, anyone who has had one (and most people do, unfortunately, at some point of their lives) knows that in the moment it can feel like a near impossible task to overcome the feeling. When people who are having a panic attack say they feel like they are dying, or about to pass out it’s because they truly feel that way.
When repeated panic attacks occur panic disorder can continue to intensify to the point of Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is defined as:
“A fear of having a panic attack in a situation where it would be challenging or embarrassing to escape. This fear often leads to persistent avoidance behaviors, in which the person begins to stay away from places and situations in which they fear panic may occur. For example, some commonly avoided circumstances include driving a car, leaving the comfort of home, shopping in a mall, traveling by airplane, or simply being in a crowded area.”
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops when someone experiences a shocking, dangerous, scary or terrifying event. Oftentimes people associate PTSD with soldiers and those who have seen combat. This is a very common and serious cause of PTSD, but not the only one.
PTSD can be caused by things like sexual assault, a car accident, witnessing or being the victim of violence or crime and more. Most people will experience trauma in their lives and recover from it in a healthy way over time. When healthy recovery does not happen PTSD can develop. PTSD is characterized by having all of the following symptoms at least once a month after your trauma:
- Revisiting the Trauma – this could be through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.
- Avoidance Behaviors – this could be avoiding the actual place of trauma, memories or talking about the trauma, or even things that remind the person of trauma.
- Aroused Reactivity – Being easily startled or always on edge, difficulty sleeping, and irritability or angry outbursts.
- Cognition Symptoms – Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of guilt or depression, distorted thoughts, trouble remembering details about the event or trauma (blacked out memories)
Social Phobia (previously known as social anxiety): Social Phobia is an intense fear and sense of self-consciousness in social settings. The intensity of social anxiety can vary from person to person. One person with Social Phobia may be fine in a social setting, as long as they don’t have to speak in front of the group. Another person diagnosed with Social Phobia may have issues even leaving their house due to the overwhelming fear of interacting with others.
The good news is that all of these anxiety disorders are treatable with the use of therapy and medication management. Many times anxiety disorders will require both to be fully and effectively treated.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely proven treatment options of Anxiety Disorders. When participating in CBT you work with a licensed therapist to identify, address, and change distorted and destructive thinking and behaviors. You work to improve emotional regulation and develop, with your therapist, healthy coping techniques to use throughout your life, because unfortunately you cannot cure anxiety, but you CAN learn to control it!
I hope that this information helped you better understand that when someone tells you they have an Anxiety Disorder they aren’t telling you they are simply feeling nervous or anxious. There is so much more that they are dealing with under the surface.
If you or a loved one has one of these disorders I encourage you to educate yourself (using a reputable source, of course) on the anxiety disorder further. Education is power!
Be patient and kind with one another, you never know what demons someone may be fighting.
And for the warriors currently in their own battles with an Anxiety Disorder, you are STRONG. You are NOT ALONE. And things WILL GET BETTER. Keep fighting warriors!