Anxiety is a common human experience, and ranges in depth and intensity. The experience is most typically in response to life stressors, and may be temporary. Anxiety disorders can be defined as conditions characterized by pathological anxiety that has not been caused by physical illness, is not associated with substance use, and is not part of a psychotic illness. However, many people experience anxiety symptoms in association with a diagnosable mental illness. Individuals with an anxiety disorder are functionally impaired by the condition that is beyond a reasonable temporary response to trauma, stress or danger.
Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent psychological disorders, and cause significant distress, personal impairment, and cost to society. They affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year and occur slightly more often in women than in men, and occur with equal frequency in whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
What causes Anxiety Disorders?
This is one of the mysteries. The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown; but anxiety disorders are not the result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing. Like other brain illnesses, anxiety disorders may be caused by problems in the functioning of brain circuits that regulate fear and other emotions. Researchers are learning that anxiety disorders run in families, and that they have a biological basis, much like allergies or diabetes and other disorders. Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
What are the symptoms of Anxiety Disorders?
Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder, but general symptoms include:
Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness.
Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet.
Shortness of breath
An inability to be still and calm
Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet.
What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?
There are several recognized types of anxiety conditions. Here are five of the most common ones:
1. Panic disorder
a) What it is: recurrent, unexpected attacks of acute anxiety, peaking within 10 min. such panic may occur in a familiar situation, such as crowded elevator.
b) What to look for: palpitations; chest pains; sweating, chills or hot flushes; trembling; shortness of breath of choking; nausea, light-headedness or feeling of unreality; fear of losing control or dying.
c) Bottom line: four of more of these symptoms in at least two discrete episodes could spell trouble.
2. Specific phobia
a) What it is: consuming fear of a specific object of situation, often accompanied by extreme anxiety symptoms.
b) What to look for:
Do you come up with elaborate ways to avoid the object or situation?
Do you dread the next possible encounter?
Are you aware that the fear is excessive but you are unable to control it?
Does merely thinking about the thing your fear make you anxious?
c) Bottom line: don’t worry if you just plain hate, say, snakes or crowds or heights. The key is how powerful your feelings are and how you handled them.
3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
a) What it is: a preoccupation with specific thoughts, images or impulses. Accompanied by elaborate and sometimes bizarre rituals.
b) What to look for:
Are you obsessive thoughts, persistent and intrusive?
Do you expend a lot of energy suppressing the thoughts, usually unsuccessfully?
Are you generally aware that the thoughts are irrational?
Is the anxiety temporarily eased by a repetitive ritual such as hand washing or a thought ritual such as praying?
Are the rituals time consuming?
c) Bottom line: some researchers question whether OCD is a genuine anxiety disorder. Whatever it is, it does respond to treatment