What are anxiety disorders?
It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and to do a better job. Ordinary anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life.
In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating. This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. In extreme cases, it may prevent you from entering an elevator, crossing the street, or even leaving your home. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.
Symptoms of anxiety
People often experience physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms when they feel anxious or stressed.
Some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety are:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased muscle tension
- “Jelly legs”
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Hyperventilation (over breathing)
- Difficulty in breathing
- Wanting to use the toilet more often
- Feeling sick
- Tight band across the chest area
- Tension headaches
- Hot flushes
- Increased perspiration
- Dry mouth
- Choking Sensation
Some of the most common psychological symptoms (the thoughts or altered perceptions we have) of anxiety are:
- Thinking that you may lose control and/or go “mad”
- Thinking that you might die
- Thinking that you may have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour
- Feeling that people are looking at you and observing your anxiety
- Feeling as though times are speeding up/slowing down
- Feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
- Feeling like wanting to run away/escape from the situation
- Feeling on edge and alert to everything around you
The most common behavioural symptom (the things we do when we are anxious) is avoidance. Although avoiding an anxiety provoking situation produces immediate relief from the anxiety, it is only a short term solution. This means that while it may seem like avoiding a situation is the best thing to do at the time, the anxiety often returns the next time that you face the situation and avoiding it will only psychologically reinforce the message that there is danger. The problem with avoidance is that you never get to find out whether your fear about the situation and what would happen is actually true.
The five common types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. In some instances, people focus on anxiety around their health.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.
- Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. (Please see the section on PTSD under Conditions for more information)
- Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.
Treatment for Anxiety
The most common and evidence based treatment for Anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Find out more about CBT here.
PTSD can be best treated by CBT, Compassion Focused CBT and EMDR. Please find more information about these therapies under the Therapies section at the top of the page.
Further information on anxiety can be found at the websites below.