In their lifetimes, nearly one in five Americans will have an anxiety disorder.
About 40 million people in the United States, ages 18-54, have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, making it one of the most common mental illnesses.
But it’s important to note the difference between simple anxiety and a disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can even be beneficial in certain situations, such as fight-or-flight moments.
However, anxiety disorders differ because they “involve excessive fear or anxiety.” Anxiety disorders can be triggered by a number of factors, such as genetics, brain chemistry, life events or one’s personality. Anxiety and Depression Association of America researchers are learning that anxiety disorders run in families and operate biologically like allergies or diabetes.
Thankfully, these disorders are treatable, and professional help is readily available.
Types of Anxiety
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are five major types of anxiety disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Individuals who have generalized anxiety disorder display “excessive anxiety or worry for months and face several anxiety-related symptoms,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
GAD symptoms include restlessness, feeling wound up or on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, uncontrollable worry or trouble sleeping.
Individuals with social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder) experience “a marked fear of social or performance situations in which they expect to feel embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others,” according to the NIMH.
Some of the symptoms include feelings of anxiousness when around other people, self-consciousness and worry about negative reactions from others, and excessive worry leading up to an event that other people will attend.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the best-known anxiety disorders. OCD symptoms manifest themselves in two primary ways, the NIMH notes. The first is obsession, such as a fear of germs; unwanted thoughts about taboo topics; aggressiveness toward others or oneself; or arranging items symmetrically or in an apparently perfect order.
On the other side is compulsion, defined as a repetitive physical behavior. This may take the form of excessive cleaning or hand washing, arranging items in a specific way or repeatedly checking on things.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Another well-known anxiety disorder, PTSD affects many who have fought in wars or serve their communities as police officers or first responders.
PTSD is difficult to diagnose because not every traumatized individual develops a chronic or acute disorder. For a PTSD diagnosis, an adult must experience at least one month of flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts. Individuals may also begin to avoid certain people, places, music and/or words that might trigger traumatic memories.
Panic disorder is a diagnosis for people who have recurring panic attacks, which involve symptoms including rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, tingling sensations or weakness in the body, trouble breathing, chest pain or dizziness.
Treating Anxiety Disorders
There are ways to effectively treat anxiety disorders, including therapy, medication or both. Telemental health programs can also help those with anxiety disorders, especially PTSD.
One type of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), teaches clients that there are diverse ways of thinking, behaving and reacting to anxiety-generating situations, according to the NIMH. In cases of social anxiety disorder, CBT may consist of cognitive therapy and exposure therapy.
Cognitive therapy places an emphasis on challenging and neutralizing negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety. Exposure therapy, meanwhile, focuses directly on the fears causing anxiety as a way to help people overcome them.
Make a Difference
Develop the skills necessary to help those with mental illness or addiction by earning an online behavioral health degree from Alvernia University. You’ll be prepared to pursue graduate studies or work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, assistance programs and many other social agencies. Take advantage of our asynchronous online course format that allows you to manage your professional life alongside your education.