Anxiety: Frequently Asked Questions
Everyone feels anxious from time to time. But there is an important difference between everyday worry and an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect nearly one fifth of the U.S. population (18.1%). This condition is very treatable, yet only about a third of people who struggle with an anxiety disorder receive treatment. This means that many suffer and have difficulty coping on a daily basis.
Unless you’ve personally experienced an anxiety disorder, you can’t really know how overwhelming or life-changing it can be. To help raise awareness about these conditions, we will answer some of the most commonly held questions about anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety symptoms arise from our body’s response to stress. It’s normal to experience anxiety. It serves a legitimate purpose, such as making us alert and preparing us for an important situation. But when fear, worry and nervousness become chronic, it can result in your body’s fight-or-flight response becoming out of proportion to the events that caused it. Chronic worry and intense physical symptoms when you are not in danger, may be a sign that you have an anxiety disorder.
Are There Different Types of Anxiety Disorders?
One of the most frequently asked questions about anxiety is how many different types exist. Mental health experts generally consider there to be eight types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social phobia or social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Separation anxiety
- Specific phobias
Each anxiety disorder carries its own unique symptoms. Having said that, these signs are the most common:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry mouth
- Intense fear of fainting
- Inability to think or concentrate
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is the most common type of anxiety disorder. It affects 6.8 million American adults (3.1% of the population). You could be diagnosed with GAD if you find it difficult to control your worry most days a week for at least six months. To have a diagnosis of GAD, you must experience three or more GAD symptoms:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
- Frequent trips to the bathroom
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
What Is Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder?
SAD involves intense fear of social situations. Those living with SAD spend a lot of time worrying about others judging or rejecting them. In social situations, people with SAD will experience symptoms of severe anxiety. Because socializing (or the thought of socializing) can result in anxiety and nervousness, SAD sufferers will often avoid social situations as much as possible.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that develops after witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event. Mental health experts first recognized PTSD in war veterans. Psychiatrists used to call the condition “shell shock.” But the mental health community now recognizes that other distressing or frightening situations can result in PTSD, such as childhood trauma or experiencing a traumatic event within your lifetime.
Symptoms of this anxiety disorder include:
- Vivid flashbacks (re-experiencing the trauma)
- Intrusive thoughts or images
- Intense distress due to real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
- Nightmares about the trauma
- Physical sensations (e.g. sweating, nausea and trembling)
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
OCD involves intrusive thoughts, images or urges (obsessions) that cause anxiety. This anxiety disorder also features repetitive behaviors that patients do to try and relieve their anxiety.
Common OCD obsessions include:
- Fear of harming yourself or others on purpose or by mistake
- Fear of contamination by disease, infection or an unpleasant chemical
- A need for symmetry or orderliness
Compulsive behaviors typical of OCD include:
- Cleaning and hand washing
- Ordering and arranging
- Asking for reassurance
- Checking (e.g. that the doors are locked or the stove is switched off)
- Repeating words in your head
- Avoiding places or situations that trigger obsessive thoughts
What Is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is characterized by reoccurring panic attacks. These are sudden attacks of intense fear or panic that occur frequently and unexpectedly. This anxiety disorder may feature the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations
- Pounding heart
- Accelerated heart rate
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feelings of choking
- Trembling or shaking
- Chills or heat sensations
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety tends to occur in children. Adults may suffer from separation anxiety if they have experienced a traumatic separation within their lifetime. It involves the fear of being separated from a person or even a pet. Someone with separation anxiety may show the following symptoms:
- Heightened fear of being alone
- Excessive fear that a specific person will suffer harm if they leave them alone
- Physical symptoms of anxiety when they know they will soon be separated from another person
- Needing to know where a loved one is at all times
What Is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia frequently occurs in people who suffer from panic disorder. They may fear having a panic attack so strongly that they will altogether avoid social situations or places where “escaping” could be difficult (e.g. shopping centers or public transportation).
It is also common for someone who has suffered a traumatic event or lost a loved one to develop agoraphobia. They may be afraid to leave the house by themselves or could suffer severe symptoms of anxiety if they venture outside their set “zone.”
What Are Specific Phobias?
Most everyone is afraid of something. However, the majority of people can still face their fears enough to live their lives without much disruption. A specific phobia is when someone has an excessive fear of something (even the idea or anticipation of something) that causes them extreme discomfort or anxiety even though they know the fear is irrational.
Common phobias include:
- Acrophobia (fear of heights)
- Aerophobia (fear of flying)
- Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
- Claustrophobia (fear of confinement)
- Hemophobia (fear of blood)
- Hydrophobia (fear of water)
- Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
How Are Anxiety Attacks Different Than Panic Attacks?
Anxiety attacks are less severe than panic attacks. They are not as intense and have a shorter duration than the symptoms of panic disorder. Having said that, anxiety attacks are still distressing. Symptoms include:
- Intense fear of some problem or event that might occur
- Uncontrollable worry and racing thoughts
- Racing or pounding heart
- A feeling of a “knot in the stomach”
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
Anxiety attacks generally have a specific trigger (e.g. an exam, health issue or relationship problem). They also tend to develop gradually when a person feels anxious. Panic attacks, in contrast, may not involve a trigger and can happen without warning. Although an anxiety attack is distressing, you may not fear that you are doing to die, which is often a symptom of panic attacks.
What Are Different Anxiety Medications?
There are different types of medication that can help ease the symptoms of anxiety. The most common options include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – These are common antidepressants, but doctors may also prescribe them for anxiety symptoms. SSRIs for anxiety include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil) and escitalopram (Lexapro).
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Benzodiazepines – These are one of the most common types of anti-anxiety medication. They are sedative drugs that quickly reduce both the psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety. Benzos include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan).
What Are Natural Remedies for Anxiety?
There are also natural remedies that can offer people relief from anxiety symptoms. These can be used in addition to a prescribed medication or on their own:
- Spending time in nature
- Having a companion animal
Any anxiety disorder can cause unpleasant symptoms that get in the way of you living life to the fullest. But effective treatment is out there. It’s important to find a strategy that works for you. With the right combination of therapy, medication and natural remedies, you can gain control of your anxiety and live with more peace and ease.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.