Every individual experiences some degree of anxiety at different points in his/her life. You might experience anxiety due to problems that arise in your personal life, or in relation to school or work, which is a normal reaction when faced with stressful situations. Anxiety disorders consist of more than temporary feelings of worry. People who suffer from anxiety disorders are unable to cope with the fears that anxiety is causing, which ultimately affects their daily functioning. The exact cause of anxiety disorders remains unknown, but research studies suggest that they could be caused by environmental factors, brain chemistry, genetics, and substance abuse, or a combination of any of these factors.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – it is characterized by persistent feelings of worry without the presence of any realistic reasons for this feeling. People with this disorder usually struggle in the academic and employment areas, as they have difficulty concentrating and paying attention. GAD can also affect one’s physical well-being. In fact, physical symptoms appear to be the number one reason that causes people to seek treatment for anxiety (Wittchen et.al., 2002). Furthermore, according to research by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with GAD have difficulty with believing they can sustain a healthy romantic relationship, are three times more likely to avoid intimacy, and are twice as likely to quarrel and to avoid engagement in social activities.
Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia - This type of anxiety disorder usually arises from the fear of being judged and being embarrassed. People who suffer from social anxiety tend to avoid daily exposure to social situations. This type of anxiety usually affects people’s functioning in the social and occupational domains of their lives, leaving them feeling lonely and under accomplished.
Specific Phobias – it is characterized by fears of particular situations or objects. Among numerous specific phobias, there are some common examples, such as fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of being outdoors, fear of enclosed spaces, or fear of heights. Anxiety that is associated with exposure to these situations leads people to avoid many situations and affects their daily life.
Separation Anxiety Disorder – This type of anxiety disorder usually affects children. Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by the excessive feeling of anxiety in reaction to separation from an attachment figure. Symptoms include feelings of worry and distress over the possibility of losing an attachment figure, difficulty separating from an attachment figure even for brief periods of time, fear of going to sleep without the attachment figure being near, and nightmares.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Although OCD is a separate mental health disorder, it is strongly related to the category of anxiety disorders. OCD can affect both children and adults. It is characterized by preoccupation with intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and engagement in repetitive acts (compulsions). Among the symptoms that individuals with OCD experience, some of the common ones appear to be fear of germs and handwashing, repeatedly checking things, and doing things in a specific order. These symptoms cause severe anxiety and interfere with all areas of one’s functioning on a daily basis.
Anxiety can manifest with a wide range or combination of symptoms. Some people experience anxiety on an emotional level, while others experience it physically. Generally, it is a combination of both types of symptoms that is present in people with anxiety disorders.
People with anxiety disorders may experience any combination of the following symptoms:
Since some of these symptoms could in fact be caused by other medical conditions, it is always important to rule out any possible medical issues. Once physical causes have been ruled out, it is most likely that they are caused by a type of anxiety disorder and can be treated with psychotherapy and/or medications.
Research has shown that there are several effective psychotherapy approaches that could be utilized to treat anxiety. Integration of different approaches described below has been proven to be an effective method for treating anxiety.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy – the focus of this approach is to explore the unresolved underlying conflicts that one may be experiencing, which contribute into the symptoms of anxiety. The goal of this type of therapy is to help individuals increase awareness into their underlying issues by analyzing the unconscious mind and offering interpretations and clarifications in order to connect current symptoms to past experiences.
CBT - this is an empirically based approach that focuses on changing negative and irrational thoughts, improving coping strategies, and developing skills to help the individual regulate emotions. In the process people learn how to challenge and restructure thoughts that lead to anxiety and to apply relaxation and mindfulness techniques that they also learn in therapy.
Exposure Therapy - this therapy approach is based on the idea that avoiding fearful situations will only elevate one’s level of anxiety about that specific situation. Research has shown that repeated exposure to the stimulus that triggers anxiety over time will decrease and ultimately eliminate the feelings of fear and panic. Since for many people just the thought of being exposed to a certain object or situation appears to be unbearable, the technique called “systematic desensitization” is used to gradually reduce fear and teach relaxation techniques to deal with anxiety.
Although anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, people frequently feel embarrassed to seek help. It is important that anxiety sufferers and their loved ones recognize that there is help available and that they too can lead happy and fulfilling lives.
If you would like to read more about anxiety disorders, below are some sources that you could for additional information.
1. Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic. (David H. Barlow, 2nd Edition).
2. Cognitive Factors That Maintain Social Anxiety Disorder: A Comprehensive Model of Its Treatment and Implications. (Stefan G. Hofmann, 2007).
3. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (Christopher Gale and Oliver Davidson, 2007)