Anxiety is an emotion that we all experience, and is in fact part of being human. However, for some of us, our anxious feelings are more than we can manage and end up interfering with our daily life. Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders characterized by excessive fear, anxiety and related behavioural disturbances. Even if you do not meet criteria for an anxiety disorder as defined by the DSM-V or another mental health classification system, it can substantially affect your mental and physical well-being.
Problems with anxiety can include chronic and persistent worry over one or several things such as fear that people are judging you, fear of losing money, fear of being alone or fear of becoming ill. At times the worry may feel like it’s helping you prevent bad things from happening, but worry can consume a lot of your mental energy and time. It may be hard to stop worrying even though a part of you knows that worrying is not helping. Problems with anxiety can be associated with difficulty in concentration, feeling on edge, nervousness, procrastination, avoiding people, and spending a lot of your time worrying about something bad happening. Anxiety can take up so much time and have a negative impact on your life that you may feel hopeless and depressed.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is the fear of social interactions and situations that involve the possibility of being evaluated by other people. This can include meeting new people, situations where a person would be observed eating order drinking, or a situation where a person will be performing in front of other people. The person fears being negatively judged, shamed, embarrassed, humiliated, rejected, or offending others.
A person with social anxiety disorder may not always avoid social situations, although that is a common feature of this disorder and in more severe cases can be the case. Typically, social situations are often endured with a lot of discomfort.
Some common symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Fear of people and situations where you may be judged
- Worry that you will embarrass or humiliate yourself
- Fear of interacting with or talking with others
- Fear people will notice you are anxious
- Anxiety just thinking about a social situation or event you have to attend
- Spending a lot of time analyzing mistakes in your interactions with people
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is the persistent and excessive worry about a range of events and activities across various aspects of one’s life including work, school and family that a person finds difficult to control. The person may also report physical symptoms such as restlessness or feeling keyed up, feeling easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbance.
Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Constant worry about things that are out of proportion to the actual impact of that event
- Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
- Difficulty with uncertainty
- Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
- Difficulty with setting aside or ignoring the worry
- Difficulty with concentration
- Difficulty with relaxing, feelings of restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- Physical symptoms: fatigue, trouble sleeping, muscle tension, easily startled, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, irritable bowel symptoms
Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder
A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes and is accompanied by physical and/or cognitive symptoms such as shortness of breath, fear of losing control or “going crazy,” fear of having a heart attack or dying. Panic disorder is when a person experiences recurrent and unexpected panic attacks accompanied by constant fear of succumbing to attacks and alters their life to avoid situations they believe to be triggers.
People can have panic attacks and not have a specific trigger for the attack. A hallmark of panic attack is not having control, therefore not having a specific trigger for the attack can make a person feel even less in control. You can also have panic attacks but not a panic disorder. Panic attacks can occur in the context of another mental health disorder, not just panic disorder (e.g., depressive disorder, PTSD or substance use disorder) or physical health condition (e.g., cardiac, respiratory or gastrointestinal issues). Often panic disorder develops after a person has had several panic attacks.
Some common symptoms of a panic attacks include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing or feeling of choking
- Chest pain or pressure
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Feeling shaky, numb or tingling
- Excessive sweating
- Upset stomach or diarrhea
- Feeling a loss of control
- Fear of dying
- Feeling unreal or detached from oneself
Specific phobia is an overwhelming fear of certain objects or situations that are out of proportion with the actual risk posed. A person can have a phobia of a certain animal, natural environment, seeing blood, or of a certain situation. The person may avoid the object or situation altogether. Unlike the fleeting fear of certain situations – like the anxiety you feel when giving a speech – specific phobias are longer lasting and can significantly affect one’s ability to work, go to school or socialize.
Some common phobias include:
- Situations such as airplanes, enclosed spaces
- Nature, e.g. thunderstorms or heights
- Animals or insects, such as dogs or spiders
- Blood, injection, needles, medical procedures
- Choking, vomiting, loud noises or clowns
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder where a person fears and avoids places or situations that might cause them to feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. These situations cause anxiety because the person fears they cannot escape or get help if they feel panicked or other disabling or embarrassing symptoms. Some people may have panic disorder in addition to agoraphobia.
Some common symptoms of agoraphobia include:
- Fear of leaving home alone
- Fear of crowds or waiting in line
- Fear of enclosed spaces such as elevator, movie theatres
- Fear of using public transportation such as bus, plan or train
- Fear of large open spaces like a parking lot or mall
- Need companion in fear situation
- Avoidance of feared situation