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Identifying and understanding common kinds of anxiety disorder

Published by: LifeWorks,

How to identify and understand anxiety disorders

Anxiety is a way to describe feelings of worry, fear, and unease, typically, incorporating both the emotional and physical sensations we experience. Anxiety is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response and, while unpleasant, this is a normal reaction when our body perceives a threat. However, anxiety disorders can interfere with your ability to work, enjoy life or form close relationships. The key to coping with these conditions is to realize that they usually do not go away on their own. Getting the right kind of help can enable you to overcome an anxiety disorder or to find ways to deal confidently with it.

What are the most common kinds of anxiety disorders?
It’s very common to feel tense or unsure about a potentially stressful situation, such as an exam or starting a new job. However, some of us will be affected more than others. Despite being a normal experience, if these feelings are very intense or are long-lasting, it may be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can take many forms. They fall into these broad groups:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with generalized anxiety disorder feel anxious or nervous most of the time. Some worry excessively about their work, school performance, families, health or finances. Others can’t identify a specific cause for their anxiety. They may feel tense, exhausted, nauseated, irritable, unable to concentrate, or lightheaded and out of breath, a sense of dread, racing thoughts, “on edge” over worrying about scenarios. They may perspire more than others, or they may have sleep disturbance, headaches, muscle tension, or digestive issues. Their symptoms last for at least six months and without treatment may persist for much longer. Everyone will experience symptoms differently and the severity may cause you to avoid certain situations, withdraw from family and friends, and find work difficult. These actions can cause further worry and low self-esteem.

Panic disorder
. Panic disorder involves sudden and repeated episodes of terror that strike without warning. Most panic attacks last between 5-20 minutes, but some have been reported to last for up to an hour. Even brief panic attacks can arrive so unexpectedly that people may worry intensely about when the next one will occur and may start avoiding certain situations. The episodes may involve palpitations or pounding heart, feelings of dread, trembling, shaking, sweating, or having hot flashes. Or they may cause people to feel dizzy, numb, flushed, chilled, or lightheaded. Sometimes people who are having a panic attack feel that they are dying, unable to breathe, or having a heart attack or stroke. Or they may think that they are losing their minds or that the world is spinning out of control.

Constantly worrying about when another attack will occur creates a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’ which reinforces panic and anxiety.

Often events, situations, or things that set off a panic attack can be identified, but sometimes the triggers are hard to pinpoint. Due to the intensity of these panic attack symptoms—particularly the feelings of fear and terror—many people with panic disorder are unable to relax between attacks. Constantly worrying about when another attack will occur creates a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’ which reinforces panic and anxiety. The emotional toll of this anticipatory anxiety can negatively impact self-confidence and may greatly disrupt a person’s ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis.

Phobias. Phobias are intense fears of objects or situations that are usually relatively safe, such as heights, thunderstorms, tunnels or bridges, dogs or snakes, flying, or driving a car. People who have these phobias know their fears are irrational, but they still feel very afraid when they encounter these things and avoid them when possible. The symptoms of phobias tend to be very similar to those experienced during a panic attack.

There are a wide variety of objects or situations that someone could develop a phobia about. However, phobias can be divided into two main categories:

Specific or simple phobias which centre around a particular object, animal, situation, or activity.

Complex phobias tend to be disabling and are the most common as agoraphobia and social phobia (social anxiety).
Social anxiety disorder (SAD). Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is the fear of being humiliated, embarrassed in front of others and judged by them. It tends to cause difficulties in specific kinds of social situations. People with this disorder may feel painfully self-conscious or see minor mistakes as major problems. They may be afraid to attend parties, speak in public, eat in restaurants, talk on the phone or write in front of others.

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