Anxiety isn’t generally considered an abnormality or disorder. Instead, anxiety is understood as a normal biological response to stress in usual circumstances. Yet, a problem arises when the anxiety experienced becomes prolonged and unbearable. When this occurs, it’s characterized as an anxiety disorder, the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the US.
The difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders is the severity. While the former is experienced as a low-grade feeling of temporary distress, potentially used positively towards motivation, action, and growth, the latter is experienced as intense anguish feeling that is harmful and debilitating to the person experiencing the condition.
There are many theories as to the cause of anxiety, and the science behind anxiety appears to relate directly to the chemistry of the brain and the trigger of the fight-or-flight response. In addition, during times of anxiety, activity is much greater in the areas of the brain that are responsible for emotional decisions. Studies have shown a correlation between elevated levels of norepinephrine in the central nervous system in people with anxiety.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. What follows will be a discussion about the most common types of anxiety disorders, their symptoms and causes, and how they are diagnosed and treated.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
While chronic anxiety is often generalized as a single disorder, there are several types of anxiety disorders categorized by associated triggers, symptoms, and severity levels.
Many anxiety disorders also occur in association with other mental health disorders, most commonly depression. The prevalence of this can be seen in the statistic shared by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, suggesting that nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
These Are the Most Prevalent Types of Anxiety Disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
- Social Anxiety
Other types of anxiety disorders include PTSD, phobias such as agoraphobia, selective mutism, separation anxiety, medication-induced anxiety disorder, and other unspecified anxiety-related conditions.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Otherwise referred to as GAD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the extreme side of simple anxiety. It’s described as persistent, extreme levels of anxiety over prolonged periods of time, which differentiates the condition from simple, temporary anxiety.
There is no one cause or risk factor associated with GAD. Potential triggers can be related to relationships, work, social life, or school. Those suffering from GAD experience high levels of restlessness and worry during mere ordinary occurrences.
Panic disorder is a condition resulting in severe, persistent, and unwarranted panic attacks. During a typical panic attack, individuals often experience symptoms of rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
Those who experience panic disorder also tend to develop other mental health disorders such as depression, PTSD, and social anxiety.
OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
Individuals who suffer from OCD experience compulsions or uncontrollable obsessions that lead to fears and urges that can impede daily life. Those experiencing OCD may have only minor distress, or they can be compulsive to the point of illogical and debilitating behavior.
The condition of OCD has been reported to affect about one percent of the population. Those experiencing OCD have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, such as an extreme fear of germs, a need for cleanliness and order, and the compulsion to check certain things repeatedly over and over.
Previously considered to be a phobia similar to agoraphobia, social anxiety is triggered by social interaction, large engagements, enclosed spaces, lines and crowds, and public places. Individuals who suffer from social anxiety tend to avoid socialization at all costs due to false suspicions or fears of judgment, embarrassment, or ridicule.
Generalized anxiety symptoms seen with different anxiety disorders can be characterized and used to help identify specific anxiety types.
The following are some of those anxiety-related symptoms:
- Rapid Heart Rate
- A feeling of Helplessness and Restlessness
- Lack of Focus and Concentration
- Shortness of Breath
- Racing Thoughts
- Extreme Fatigue
- Unjustified Worry
Diagnosing and Treating Anxiety Disorders
As soon as any initial symptoms or characteristics associated with anxiety begin, it’s best to visit a primary care clinician. Early evaluation can be extremely helpful in the treatment of anxiety.
Diagnosis and treatment can be rapidly achieved in collaboration with your primary care clinician and a mental health specialist. Open communication via a psychological or psychiatric evaluation is critical to the diagnosis. Mental health clinicians often refer to the criteria in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to help accurately diagnose an anxiety disorder.
Once the disorder has been identified and diagnosed, plausible treatment can be initiated to mitigate and manage symptoms. The treatment plan will often include several options depending on the type and severity of the disorder.
These Are the Most Effective Treatments Available for Anxiety Disorders:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Mental Health Medication (Anti-Anxiety, Anti-Depressive, Anti-Psychotic, Beta-Blockers)
- Stress Management Strategies
- Personal Support Systems
- Lifestyle Interventions
In the mildest cases, simple stress management strategies, helpful support systems, and basic lifestyle interventions may suffice. These interventions include nutrition, exercise, hydration, sleep, meditation, positive affirmation, breathwork, and eliminating poor habits (alcohol and substance abuse). Medication treatment can be considered secondarily in these cases.
If an anxiety disorder becomes severe and unbearable and impedes daily life, more comprehensive treatment protocols are needed, such as cognitive therapy and medication. Medication should be prescribed by a medical care provider experienced in mental health treatment or by a mental health professional.
The most effective medications to treat anxiety disorders are antidepressants, such as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). Examples of these are Fluoxetine and Duloxetine.
Additional treatment can include benzodiazepines (Lorazepam, Klonopin), Buspirone (Buspar), and Gabapentin.
Anxiety is a common disorder that can range from mild to severe. Mild cases may be managed with psychotherapy and lifestyle intervention. However, in severe cases, the treatment with medication can greatly improve the condition.
Living with anxiety doesn’t have to be debilitating and instead can be quite manageable, ultimately leading to a much-improved condition. It’s best to seek early treatment to achieve the best outcome.