Anxiety Disorders and their symptoms can vary dramatically from person to person. If you or someone you know seems to be suffering from an anxiety disorder please seek professional help or encourage them to seek professional help.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive anxiety and worry, often about health, family, money, or work. This worrying goes on every day, possibly all day. It disrupts social activities and interferes with work, school, or family.
GAD is diagnosed in adults when they experience at least three of the symptoms below on more days than not for at least six months; only one symptom is required in children.
Symptoms of GAD include the following:
- restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- being easily fatigued
- difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- muscle tension
- sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
Genetic and environmental factors can cause phobias. Children who have a close relative with an anxiety disorder are at risk for developing a phobia. Distressing events such as nearly drowning can bring on a phobia. Exposure to confined spaces, extreme heights, and animal or insect bites can all be sources of phobias.
People with ongoing medical conditions or health concerns often have phobias. There is a high incidence of people developing phobias after traumatic brain injuries. Substance abuse and depression are also connected to phobias.
The most common and disabling symptom of a phobia is a panic attack. Features of a panic attack include:
- pounding or racing heart
- shortness of breath
- rapid speech or inability to speak
- dry mouth
- upset stomach or nausea
- elevated blood pressure
- trembling or shaking
- chest pain or tightness
- choking sensation
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- profuse sweating
- sense of impending doom
A person with a phobia doesn’t have to have panic attacks for accurate diagnosis.
People with panic disorder experience unexpected and repeated panic attacks. They become terrified that they may have more attacks and fear that something bad will happen because of the panic attack (such as going crazy, losing control or dying).
In panic disorder, the panic attacks are unexpected and unpredictable. It is common for people with other anxiety disorders to have panic attacks, and this is not panic disorder. For example, people with a phobia of dogs might have a panic attack whenever they are near a dog. But in this case, the panic attack is expected, and the person is afraid of the dog not the panic attack.
A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort, which includes at least 4 of the following symptoms:
- racing or pounding heart
- shaking or trembling
- shortness of breath or feelings of being smothered
- feeling of choking
- chest pain or discomfort
- chills or hot flashes
- nausea or upset stomach
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- a sense of things being unreal or feeling detached from oneself
- numbness or tingling sensations
- fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- fear of dying
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted urges or images that cause distress or anxiety. You might try to get rid of them by performing a compulsion or ritual. These obsessions typically intrude when you’re trying to think of or do other things.
Obsessions often have themes to them, such as:
- Fear of contamination or dirt
- Having things orderly and symmetrical
- Aggressive or horrific thoughts about harming yourself or others
- Unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects
Examples of obsession signs and symptoms include:
- Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched
- Doubts that you’ve locked the door or turned off the stove
- Intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing a certain way
- Images of hurting yourself or someone else
- Thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately
- Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands
- Distress about unpleasant sexual images repeating in your mind
Social Anxiety Disorder
A specific social anxiety would be the fear of speaking in front of groups (only), whereas people with generalized social anxiety are anxious, nervous, and uncomfortable in almost all social situations.
It is much more common for people with social anxiety to have a generalized type of this disorder. When anticipatory anxiety, worry, indecision, depression, embarrassment, feelings of inferiority, and self-blame are involved across most life situations, a generalized form of social anxiety is at work.
People with social anxiety disorder usually experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:
- Being introduced to other people
- Being teased or criticized
- Being the center of attention
- Being watched while doing something
- Meeting people in authority (“important people”)
- Most social encounters, especially with strangers
- Going around the room (or table) in a circle and having to say something
- Interpersonal relationships, whether friendships or romantic
This list is certainly not a complete list of symptoms — other feelings have been associated with social anxiety as well.
The physiological manifestations that accompany social anxiety may include intense fear, racing heart, turning red, excessive sweating, dry throat and mouth, trembling (fear of picking up a glass of water or using utensils to eat), swallowing with difficulty, and muscle twitches, particularly around the face and neck.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which severe physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or unnatural disasters, accidents, or military combat.
Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD including military troops who served in wars; rescue workers for catastrophes like the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.; survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing; survivors of accidents, rape, physical or sexual abuse, and other crimes; immigrants fleeing violence in their countries; survivors of earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes; and those who witness traumatic events. Family members of victims can develop the disorder as well.
Many people with PTSD tend to re-experience the ordeal that set the disease in motion, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness, sleep disturbances, anxiety, intense guilt, depression, irritability, or outbursts of anger. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than one month.
Symptoms associated with reliving the traumatic event:
- Having bad dreams about the event or something similar
- Behaving or feeling as if the event were actually happening all over again (known as flashbacks)
- Having a lot of emotional feelings when reminded of the event
- Having a lot of physical sensations when reminded of the event (heart pounds or misses a beat, sweating, difficulty breathing, feeling faint, feeling a loss of control)
Symptoms related to avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event:
- Avoiding thoughts, conversations, or feelings about the event
- Avoiding people, activities, or places associated with the event
- Having difficulty remembering an important part of the original trauma
- Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
- Feelings of detachment
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Less expression of moods • Sense of having no future
- Sleeping Difficulties including trouble falling or staying asleep
- Irritability and outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling easily startled
- Excess Awareness (hypervigilance)
Medical or emotional issues:
- Stomach upset, trouble eating
- Trouble sleeping & exhaustion
- Pounding heart, rapid breathing, edginess
- Severe headache if thinking of the event, sweating
- Failure to engage in exercise, diet, safe sex, regular health care
- Excess smoking, alcohol, drugs, food
- Worsening of chronic medical problems