Anxiety disorders are defined by:
- Feelings of being on edge or restlessness
- Feelings of being fearful or powerless
- Physical symptoms such as muscle tension, sweating or heart palpitations
- A sense of doom or impending danger
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Sleep disturbances
Several types of anxiety disorders are identified in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Phobias like Agoraphobia, Social phobia, Specific phobia
- Adjustment disorder
- Acute stress disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about events or activities. Worry often interferes with daily functioning, and sufferers are overly concerned about everyday matters such as health, finances, death, family, relationship concerns, or work difficulties. Symptoms may include excessive worry, restlessness, trouble sleeping, exhaustion, irritability, sweating, and trembling.
Symptoms must be consistent and ongoing, persisting at least six months, for a formal diagnosis of GAD. Individuals with GAD often suffer from other disorders including other psychiatric disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder), substance use disorder, obesity, and may have a history of trauma or family with GAD
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something terrible is going to happen. The maximum degree of symptoms occurs within minutes. There may be ongoing worries about having further attacks and avoidance of places where attacks have occurred in the past.
The cause of panic disorder is unknown. Panic disorder often runs in families. Risk factors include smoking, psychological stress, and a history of child abuse. Diagnosis involves ruling out other potential causes of anxiety including other mental disorders, medical conditions such as heart disease or hyperthyroidism, and drug use
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder defined by a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation. Phobias typically result in a rapid onset of fear and are present for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid the situation or object, to a degree greater than the actual danger posed. If the object or situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant distress. Other symptoms can include fainting, which may occur in blood or injury phobia, and panic attacks, which are often found in agoraphobia. Around 75% of those with phobias have multiple phobias.
Phobias can be divided into specific phobias, social phobia, and agoraphobia. Specific phobias include those to certain animals, natural environment situations, blood or injury, and specific situations. The most common are fear of spiders, fear of snakes, and fear of heights. Specific phobias may be caused by a negative experience with the object or situation in early childhood. Social phobia is when a person fears a situation due to worries about others judging them. Agoraphobia is a fear of a situation due to a difficulty or inability to escape.
Most phobias are classified into three categories and, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), such phobias are considered sub-types of anxiety disorder. The categories are:
1. Specific phobias: Fear of particular objects or social situations that immediately results in anxiety and can sometimes lead to panic attacks. Specific phobia may be further subdivided into four categories: animal type, natural environment type, situational type, blood-injection-injury type.
2. Agoraphobia: a generalized fear of leaving home or a small familiar 'safe' area, and of possible panic attacks that might follow. It may also be caused by various specific phobias such as fear of open spaces, social embarrassment (social agoraphobia), fear of contamination (fear of germs, possibly complicated by obsessive-compulsive disorder) or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) related to a trauma that occurred out of doors.
3. Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, is when the situation is feared as the person is worried about others judging them.
Phobias vary in severity among individuals. Some individuals can simply avoid the subject of their fear and suffer relatively mild anxiety over that fear. Others suffer full-fledged panic attacks with all the associated disabling symptoms. Most individuals understand that they are suffering from an irrational fear, but are powerless to override their panic reaction. These individuals often report dizziness, loss of bladder or bowel control, tachypnea, feelings of pain, and shortness of breath.