What is an Anxiety Disorder?
A good question to ask yourself is whether the behavior interferes with your enjoyment of, or success in, life, relationships, or work/school performance. We all have minor habits that can be slightly bothersome, but when habits, emotional discomfort, or avoidance of situations rises to a level that it is intruding into your enjoyment and success, then it is time to intervene.
Anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, and it can develop at any age. Young children may develop a school avoidance disorder which is a type of Anxiety Disorder, or a Separation Anxiety Disorder. Adults often recall developing social anxiety in adolescence. Phobias can occur at any age and may not be related to any specific stressor. Panic attacks often feel as though they came out of the blue.
Will an anxiety disorder just go away on its’ own? Generally speaking, no. Professional assessment and intervention are usually needed. A good practice is to have a thorough check-up first to rule out any medical cause for the symptoms. Once that is done, consult a qualified mental health professional who specializes in anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are fairly common, and are usually highly treatable with good success. A cognitive-behavioral approach is generaly recommended. Many Clinical Psychologists are very well-trained in these techniques. Sometimes, particularly if a client is experiencing very distressing symptoms, they may benefit from anti-anxiety medication in the short-term. If so, a referral to a Psychiatrist can be discussed. In this situation, a team approach may be highly beneficial, and it is not uncommon.
Addressing an anxiety disorder is important because, untreated, it can lead to depression and significant relationship, academic or workplace impairment. Panic, phobias, and other anxiety issues can strain even the best of relationships, and may needlessly drain you of the ability to more fully enjoy your life.
What are the Main Types of Anxiety Disorders?
A panic disorder is usually characterized by sudden, intense, and unprovoked feelings of terror and dread. People may feel they are having a heart attack or that they are dying. Often, people become so afraid of having a panic attack that they experience anxiety about that as well, and often begin to avoid situations and restrict their activities because they worry about embarrassing themselves or “bringing on an attack”.
Phobias are often to a specific situation or thing, though not always. The fear is out of proportion to the situation or thing. It may be an irrational fear of dogs, flying in an airplane, or riding in an elevator. It may be an excessive fear of injections, or being in open places (agoraphobia).
Illness Anxiety Disorder:
Individuals find they are worrying excessively, despite medical reassurance, that they have a serious illness, or will contract a disease. They may find they spend a significant amount of time researching symptoms, and are preoccupied with even minor physical sensations.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
This is usually characterized by an excessive fear or persistent worry that something bad is going to happen, often related to health but not always. This anxiety disorder can become very intrusive so that you cannot concentrate on daily tasks and performance is impacted.
There are persistent, intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and routines or rituals (compulsions) that are intended to help rid oneself of the troublesome thoughts. Common axamples include excessive hand-washing or showers because of fear of germs, counting or arranging things exactly so to avoid a loved one being hurt, or checking to make sure doors are locked for fear of a robbery. Individuals may have an Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which is more easily described as a general approach to managing their world and includes behavior that is seen as excessivley rigid, structured, moralistic, or rule-bound by others.
This is brought on by exposure to a traumatic life event, either by direct experience or as a witness. Wartime experiences, victims of natural disasters, victims of bullying and assault or other crimes, or traumas such as auto accidents, can lead to PTSD. It can be characterized by flashbacks, intrusive and recurrent recollections of the trauma, over-arousal to non-threatening stimuli, hypersensitivity, re-experiencing of the trauma, hyper-vigilance, avoidance, detachment, and other symptoms.
Children may develop a phobic-like avoidance of school manifested by tears, anxiety and truancy, to avoid attending school or to return home early in the school day. Often there are a host of physical symptoms that represent the anxiety such as stomachaches and headaches, which disappear once the child is home. It is a real disorder. A child is not “faking”, and requires professional intervention to not become a chronic problem.
More than shyness, social anxiety is an excessive fear or worry about being judged by others, appearing foolish or embarrassing oneself, often leading to avoidance of social situations or school/career opportunities that would be beneficial.
These are the most common types of anxiety disorders and is not an exhaustive list.
An experienced Clinical Psychologist can help. Feel free to contact Dr. Sanders with your questions and to schedule a consultation at (703) 919-1959.