Anxiety Disorders


Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent—and often overwhelming—fear or worry… The frequency and intensity of these fears can be immobilizing, distressing, and disruptive…

Anxiety Disorders

“I always thought I was just a worrier. I’d feel keyed up and unable to relax. At times it would come and go, and at times it would be constant. It could go on for days. I’d worry about what I was going to fix for a dinner party, or what would be a great present for somebody. I just couldn’t let something go.

I’d have terrible sleeping problems. There were times I’d wake up wired in the middle of the night. I had trouble concentrating, even reading the newspaper or a novel. Sometimes I’d feel a little lightheaded. My heart would race or pound. And that would make me worry more. I was always imagining things were worse than they really were: when I got a stomachache, I’d think it was an ulcer…”

We all know what it’s like to feel anxious. Most of us experience anxiety when we’re faced with stressful situations or traumatic events. Our heart pounds before a big presentation or a tough exam. We get butterflies in our stomach during a blind date. We worry and fret over family problems or feel jittery at the prospect of asking the boss for a raise. Anxiety is part of our natural “fight-or-flight” response which you’ll remember we talked about in Chapter One. It’s our body’s way of warning us of possible danger ahead.

In short, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps one deal with a tense situation in the office, study harder for an exam, and keep focused on an important speech. In general, it helps one cope. But when anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling disorder.

Here’s a few of the most common types:

1) Stress – A psychological and physiological response to events that upset our personal balance in some way. When faced with a threat, whether to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, auatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. We all know what this stress response feels like: heart pounding in the chest, muscles tensing up, breaths coming faster, every sense on red alert.

2) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – An anxiety disorder that can develop after you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, usually one that has caused or threatened death or severe injury. Most people associate PTSD with battle-scarred soldiers, and indeed, military combat is the most common cause of PTSD in men. But any catastrophic life experience—a hurricane, a mugging, a horrific accident—can trigger the disorder, especially if the event is perceived as unpredictable and uncontrollable.

3) Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from GAD. People with GAD feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Anxiety related to GAD often manifests itself in physical symptoms like headaches, stomach upset, and fatigue.

4) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. You may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your hands over and over.

5) Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder – Characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks strike without warning and usually last a terrifying 15 to 30 minutes. Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls or confined spaces such as an airplane.

6) Phobias – An unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals such as snakes and spiders, fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing you fear.

7) Separation Anxiety – A normal part of child development. It consists of crying and distress when a child is separated from a parent or away from home. If separation anxiety persists beyond a certain age or interferes with daily activities, it may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder.

8) Social Anxiety / Social Phobia – If you have a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia.

Anxiety disorders can take many forms. You may experience free-floating anxiety without knowing exactly why you’re feeling that way. You may suffer from sudden, intense panic attacks that strike without warning. Your anxiety may come in the form of extreme social inhibition or in unwanted obsessions and compulsions. Or you may have a phobia of an object or situation that doesn’t seem to bother other people.

Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common persistent—and often overwhelming—fear or worry. The frequency and intensity of these fears can be immobilizing, distressing, and disruptive.

Characteristics of an anxiety disorder include:

— Anxiety which is constant, unrelenting, and all-consuming;
— Anxiety which causes self-imposed isolation or emotional withdrawal;
— Anxiety which interferes with normal activities like going outside or interacting with other people;

The toll an anxiety disorder takes on your life can lead to other problems as well, such as low self-esteem, depression, and alcoholism. Anxiety can also negatively impact your work and your personal relationships.

But to get a handle on anxieties, you first need to learn how to recognize them in yourself.

The primary symptoms of anxiety disorders are fear and worry. However, anxiety disorders are also characterized by additional emotional and physical symptoms:

Emotional/Psychological Symptoms:

— Apprehension, Uneasiness, & Dread;
— Impaired Concentration or Selective Attention;
— Feeling Restless or On Edge;
— Avoidance;
— Hypervigilance;
— Irritability;
— Confusion;
— Behavioral Problems (Especially in Children & Adolescents);
— Nervousness & Jumpiness;
— Self-Consciousness & Insecurity;
— Fear That You are Dying or Going Crazy;
— Strong Desire to Escape;

Physical Symptoms:

— Heart Palpitations or Racing Heartbeat;
— Chest Pain;
— Hot Flashes or Chills;
— Cold & Clammy Hands;
— Stomach Upset or Queasiness;
— Frequent Urination or Diarrhea;
— Shortness of Breath;

— Sweating;
— Dizziness;
— Tremors, Twitches, & Jitters;
— Muscle Tension or Aches;
— Headaches;
— Fatigue;
— Insomnia;

Medical Conditions Which Can Mimic or Cause Anxiety:

— Thyroid Disorders;
— Diabetes;
— Hypoglycemia;
— Asthma;
— Sleep Disorders;
— Adrenal Disorders;
— Epilepsy;
— Certain Heart Conditions;
— Migraines;
— Other Psychiatric Illnesses;

Medications and Substances Which Can Induce Anxiety:

— Caffeine and other stimulants;
— Drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines;
— Over-the-counter medications such as decongestants;
— Steroids such as cortisone and prednisone;
— Weight loss products;
— Hormones (birth control pills, thyroid medication);
— Inhalers and other respiratory medications;
— Herbal remedies such as ma huang and ephedra;
— High blood pressure medication;
— Withdrawal from alcohol;
— ADHD medications (Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine);
— Withdrawal from benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium);