An anxiety disorder can take many forms. It may be mild or severe. It may involve general anxiety and worry about many things, or it may be a fear of one specific thing. The exact symptoms vary according to the type of disorder, but always include excessive, irrational fear and dread.
The most common anxiety disorders include the following:
Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks: sudden, unexplained, and unexpected bouts of extreme fear and panic. The symptoms of a panic attack include:
- pounding heart
- flushing or hot flashes
- tingling or numbness of the hands and feet
- chest pain
- fear of losing control, going crazy, or dying
These attacks usually last between 10 and 20 minutes, but they can feel endless to the person experiencing them. Following an attack, a person may feel anxious, exhausted, and shaken.
People who often suffer from panic attacks may also have anxiety about these attacks. They may fear embarrassment if they have an attack in public. This may cause them to develop a fear of being in a place they cannot escape from. This fear is called agoraphobia.
The symptoms of a panic attack can be so severe that they are sometimes mistaken for a heart attack or other life-threatening condition.
A phobia is an excessive and persistent fear of a specific object, event, or situation. If the thing you fear is something that can easily be avoided, your phobia may have little impact on your life. However, if you fear something essential to daily living, the impact can be devastating. There are three types of phobias:
A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of a specific thing that, in fact, poses little or no threat. These phobias include fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of elevators, and fear of dogs.
Social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder) is the extreme fear of being embarrassed or judged in social situations. Mild social phobia might prevent you from giving a speech at the PTA meeting. Severe social phobia might prevent you from using a public restroom or attending your best friend’s birthday party.
Agoraphobia is the extreme fear of being in a situation from which you cannot escape in the event of a panic attack. In its most extreme form, agoraphobia can prevent you from leaving your home.
The symptoms of phobia include the following:
- feelings of panic, dread, or terror
- extreme fear, causing a pounding heart, shortness of breath, trembling, and an overwhelming desire to flee
- knowledge that the fear is irrational
- the inability to control your reactions
- disrupting your life in order to avoid the feared object or situation
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have persistent, uncontrollable, upsetting thoughts. They deal with the anxiety this causes by performing rituals, which gives them a sense of control over something. For example, if you are obsessed with germs, you might compulsively wash your hands over and over again. If you have obsessive thoughts about someone breaking into your home, you might compulsively lock and unlock your doors and windows.
If you have OCD, you might find it difficult to throw things away; you might be obsessed with order and symmetry; you might have the need to touch things repeatedly in a particular sequence. If you have OCD, you understand that your rituals make no sense, but you may not realize that your behavior is out of the ordinary.
These rituals may sound minor, but they can end up controlling you and interfering with your daily responsibilities. OCD is often accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, and depression.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is extreme anxiety following a severe or terrifying physical or emotional event. It may be the result of something that has happened to you, something that has happened to someone close to you, or something you have witnessed. PTSD is common following military combat, a serious accident, a personal attack, or child abuse.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- difficulty sleeping
- feeling numb or detached
- feeling jittery or on guard
Hypochondriasis is a condition in which you worry constantly about being ill. It may be mild or severe. The worry continues, even when there is no evidence of illness.
Signs of hypochondriasis include:
- complaints of tiredness or pain
- concern about normal bodily functions, such as breathing and digestive sounds
- frequent doctor visits
- shopping around for a doctor who agrees you are ill
- belief that the doctor is wrong when illness is not detected
- health concerns that interfere with daily life
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
If you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) you worry constantly about many things, even though there is little or nothing to provoke your anxiety. This worry can be so severe that it interferes with your life. Even though you may realize that your worries are unfounded, you are unable to control them.
Symptoms of GAD include:
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle tension
- difficulty concentrating
- frequent urination
- hot flashes
- shortness of breath