Anxiety Disorders

Story by Jada McCullough

Occasional anxiety is something that most people will experience at some point in their life. Feelings of anxiousness can arise from issues at work, or getting ready for a test, or maybe when you have an important decision that you have to make. All of these things are completely normal, and at some point, we all experience this. Sometimes though, these feelings of anxiety aren’t just temporary bouts of worry and fear. Anxiety disorders cause individuals to have and experience anxiety that does not go away, and sometimes that anxiety worsens as time goes by. Then the symptoms that are associated with the disorders can negatively affect daily activities like personal and professional relationships and job performance.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, one of them being generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is when someone experiences excessive worry about different things. These individuals might be constantly concerned with disaster and might be obsessed with or concerned about their health, money, work, or other issues. People with GAD find that it is difficult for them to control this worry. Although worrying is normal, these people may worry more than is expected about certain events or they might anticipate the worst even in situations where there is no reason for concern. 

GAD affects around 7 million adults in America each year, and women are twice as likely than men to be affected. This disorder is one that can gradually appear and can begin at any point in the life cycle. However, the risk of the disorder is highest between childhood and middle age. There are a number of treatments available to individuals who have GAD. Different types of therapies have been found to help individuals change their relationship with the symptoms of GAD. Therapy has been found to better help people understand anxiety and how to navigate through life without being fearful of the presence of anxiety. There are also certain medications that are good for treating GAD, along with therapy. Alternative treatments such as yoga and meditation are also options for treating GAD.

Another type of anxiety disorder is panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by individuals having spontaneous panic attacks (also known as anxiety attacks), and being obsessed with possibly having another attack. Panic disorder is something that typically begins in adulthood after turning 20, but it is not unusual for children to have the disorder as well. Almost 2-3% of Americans will experience panic disorders each year, and just like GAD, it is twice as likely for women to experience the disorder. Many individuals who are living with panic disorder are unaware that the disorder is real and that there’s treatment available to them. Some of the people who experience these attacks could be afraid to tell anyone due to believing their physician or friends/family will believe they are simply hypochondriacs. However, just like every other anxiety disorder, treatment is available to them.

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by fear or anxiety of being negatively evaluated in a social setting. Individuals with this disorder may fear that they might appear anxious or awkward while around others. Due to this, these individuals will often avoid social settings, and when they are unable to avoid these situations, they experience anxiety and distress. Some physical symptoms associated with this disorder are rapid heart rate, sweating, nausea, and panic attacks. People with social anxiety disorder oftentimes feel hopeless when attempting to confront their excessive fear.

Social anxiety disorder affects 15 million American adults and behind specific phobias, it is the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder. Typically this disorder begins during the teenage years. This disorder can cause many problems in the lives of people who have it, when untreated. Out of fear, these individuals may turn down job opportunities that would require them to have interactions with new people. These individuals may also turn down any social outings or gatherings with their friends or coworkers, out of fear that they will be so afraid that they will be visibly shaking. Although there are effective treatments available, less than 5% of people who have this disorder will seek treatment the year after the onset of the disorder.

Researchers have found that there are both genetic and environmental factors that can contribute to the risk associated with developing anxiety disorders. These risk factors can vary for each kind of disorder, however there are some general factors that can be considered. Some of these factors are exposure to stressful environmental events in early childhood and adulthood, a history of anxiety or different mental illnesses in immediate family, and certain physical health conditions. If you believe that you might have an anxiety disorder, treatment and help is available to you. Expressing your concerns with your physician is the first step to getting the help you may need.