A little bit of fear or worry can help keep people safe. It’s a natural and healthy part of the spectrum of human emotion. However, when worry starts to interfere with daily life, it could be an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a class of mental health disorders in which patients experience intense distress. These feelings can manifest into several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia.
People who suffer from these illnesses are not alone, though it can feel that way at times. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 40 million American adults experience a type of anxiety disorder each year, which adds up to more than 18 percent of the adult population.
Anyone who believes their worries have surpassed healthy levels should learn about different types of anxiety disorders, their symptoms, and treatment options.
What is Anxiety?
“Anxiety” is a broad term used to describe several disorders in which patients experience outsized reactions to stimuli. The reactions can be both physical and emotional in nature.
While a little bit of fear and worry can keep people safe from harm, too much of these feelings can overtake a person’s life and become a disorder. Because some stress is healthy, it’s important first to understand what anxiety is not.
When someone makes plans for possible emergencies, such as house fires or hurricanes, this is not anxious behavior. Similarly, anxiety is not asking loved ones to text when they get home safely, making sure the home insurance is adequate, or checking on a sleeping child at night.
Anxiety is also not a person “being dramatic” for the sake of attention. Patients with these disorders do react strongly to triggers that healthy people perceive as insignificant. However, the body of a person with anxiety responds as powerfully to their triggers as they would to feeling at risk of bodily harm.
With these things in mind, one can start to understand what anxiety is:
- An extreme reaction to seemingly small stressors
- Comprised of both physical and emotional symptoms
- A serious disorder worthy of treatment
What Types of Anxiety Disorder Exist?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic attacks, and specific phobias are all common forms of anxiety disorders. These disorders differ in types of symptoms, triggers, and treatments.
Only a mental health professional can diagnose an anxiety disorder. However, understanding the many signs and causes can help people who wonder if they need treatment.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Patients who live with GAD experience intense levels of stress almost invariably for long periods of time. While people without the disease may have stressful days or weeks, patients with GAD go months or even years feeling “on edge.” This constant worry affects their everyday lives and can make it difficult to focus on daily tasks.
People with GAD can have good days without too much anxiety. However, counselors generally diagnose patients who live with GAD symptoms more days than not for at least six months. Patients who suffer from intense anxiety for shorter bouts may have another disorder or need monitoring to determine their risk for GAD.
The external events that cause GAD to develop vary widely among patients. Professionals refer to these causes as triggers because they create the extreme reactions in people with GAD.
What Environmental Triggers Affect GAD?
Stressful events and circumstances in life can trigger GAD. Work, school, health troubles, relationship conflicts, and chronic trauma can all cause chronic anxiety.
If the symptoms begin or worsen around the same time as a major stressor enters the patient’s life, therapists can help patients find ways to cope with the trigger in healthier ways. Even when the trigger resolves, the symptoms of GAD can linger until the person adequately processes the feelings about the situation.
What are the Biological Reasons for GAD?
Chemical imbalances in the brain are often to blame for GAD that has no environmental trigger. Researchers do not yet understand why some people experience these imbalances. Although anxiety does seem to run in families, scientists do not know for a fact that GAD is an inherited disease.
How Common is GAD?
Approximately 6.8 million American adults live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which adds up to 3.1% of the country’s people. Children and adolescents can also develop the disorder. However, it’s not clear how many minors have GAD.
People with severe impairments from their GAD make up about one-third of all cases. Unfortunately, only 43.2% of people with this illness seek treatment. Everyone with GAD needs to know that they are not alone and that therapy and medicine can help.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder can present with several physical and emotional symptoms. The signs and symptoms of GAD vary greatly among patients. That’s why it’s important for anyone who sees the common symptoms to see a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Mental and Emotional GAD Symptoms:
- A pervasive sense of dread
- Startled or scared easily
- Cannot stop worrying
- Difficulty concentrating on work or school
- Feeling on-edge or jittery
- Trouble falling asleep or frequent waking at night
- Inability to make decisions
- Shaking hands or trembling muscles
- Tense, knotted muscles
- Consistent fatigue, with or without adequate sleep
- Unexplained muscle soreness
- Extreme sweating
- Increased heart rate
Symptoms in Children and Teens:
- Worrying about too many things
- Frequent discussions of disasters
- Perfectionist ideas about themselves
- Decreasing self-confidence
- Needing constant approval from beloved adults
- Recurrent nausea
- Avoiding social situations
Counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists can treat GAD with individual therapy, medications, or a combination of both. Professionals first try to understand the causes of the GAD, which helps them determine which types of treatment would work best. For example, patients with environmental triggers may benefit most from therapy while those with chemical imbalances need medication.
Counselors use several types of psychotherapy for GAD, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy gradually teaches patients to react to triggers in healthier ways. Therapists give people with GAD the tools for responding to stressful situations in ways that do not cause distress.
Psychiatrists can prescribe three different types of medications for patients with GAD: benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and buspirone. There are several sub-categories within the “antidepressant” umbrella as well. Each type of drug works differently on each patient, so finding the right pill sometimes requires trial and error.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is an acute form of anxiety in which a patient experience life-or-death levels of fear in response to non-threatening situations. In the middle of a panic attack, a patient may have difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, and trembling. People with GAD often experience panic attacks as well, although these disorders can exist independently.
What is Agoraphobia?
People with agoraphobia feel deep fear of left in situations in which they have no control. In extreme cases, they may avoid leaving their homes entirely. Other patients may avoid things like public transportation, grocery stores, or movie theaters.
Although many people feel more comfortable in their own homes than anywhere else, people with agoraphobia feel so afraid of certain situations that their fear keeps them from living their desired lives.