Overview of all anxiety disorders. Includes signs and symptoms, causes and treatments of generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, OCD, and PTSD.
Anxiety is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping. Under the right circumstances, anxiety is beneficial. It heightens alertness and readies the body for action. Faced with an unfamiliar challenge, a person is often spurred by anxiety to prepare for the upcoming event. For example, many people practice speeches and study for tests as a result of mild anxiety. Likewise, anxiety or fear and the urge to flee are a protection from danger.
Fears are not normal, however, when they become overwhelming and interfere with daily living. They are symptoms of an anxiety disorder, the most common and most successfully treated form of mental illness.
As a group, anxiety disorders afflict nearly nine percent of Americans during any six-month period. Symptoms can be so severe that patients are almost totally disabled--too terrified to leave their homes, to enter the elevator that takes them to their offices, to attend parties or to shop for food.
"Anxiety" is a word so commonly used that many people don't understand what it means in mental health care. Complicating matters is the fact that "anxiety" and fear are often used to describe the same thing. When the word "anxiety" is used to discuss a group of mental illnesses, it refers to an unpleasant and overriding mental tension that has no apparent identifiable cause. Fear, on the other hand, causes mental tension due to a specific, external reason, such as when your car skids out of control on ice.
"Anxiety disorders" refers to a group of illnesses: generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorders. When people suffering from anxiety disorders talk about their condition, they often include these descriptions:
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- unrealistic or excessive worry
- unrealistic fears concerning objects or situations
- exaggerated startle reactions
- "flashbacks" of past trauma
- sleep disturbances
- ritualistic behaviors as a way of with dealing with anxieties
- muscle aches
- cold/clammy hands
- racing or pounding heart
- dry mouth
- numbness/tingling of hands, feet or other body part
- upset stomach
- lump in throat
- high pulse and/or breathing rate
In addition, people suffering from anxiety disorders are often apprehensive and worry that something bad may happen to themselves or loved ones. They often feel impatient, irritable and easily distracted.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder suffer with unrealistic or excessive anxiety and worry about life circumstances. For example, they may feel panicky about financial matters even though they have a good bank balance and have paid their debts. Or they may be preoccupied constantly about the welfare of a child who's safe at school. People with generalized anxiety disorder may have stretches of time when they're not consumed by these worries, but they are anxious most of the time. Patients with this disorder often feel "shaky," reporting that they feel "keyed up" or "on edge" and that they sometimes "go blank" because of the tension that they feel. They often suffer also with depression.
continue: Phobias, Panic Disorder, and OCD