Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illness in America. A staggering 40 million American adults are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year. Children and adolescents can also develop anxiety disorders.
Our bodies have evolved and developed to deal with the various changes that take place in our lives. Sometimes however, these changes can bring unwanted stress to us. Experiencing small amounts of stress is quite normal and can sometimes enhance our performance as individuals. Large amounts of continual stress, on the other hand, can damage our mental health by bringing down self esteem and can even lead to anxiety and stress.
Anxiety and panic are natural reactions that everybody feels from time to time. The trigger for either feeling can be different in each person although a few situations exist that are universally thought of as panic inducing and stress filled. Anxiety and panic attacks occur when these feelings become so strong that a person is unable to function properly. A good example is public speaking. Not many of us can successfully walk up onto a stage without feeling at least some form of anxiety. This is normal and we can generally fudge our way through it managing to overcome our feelings. What happens with the debilitating kind of anxiety or panic attack is that you freeze up and are completely unable to cope with the situation.
Panic Attacks – You’re in the middle of the supermarket and you’re suddenly overcome by a wave of lightheadedness. You grip the shopping cart firmly in your hands. Suddenly your heart starts to pound and you have trouble breathing. The grocery aisles around you take on a surreal quality and you start to panic as terror takes hold of you. You want to cry out and call for help but you just can’t do it so you curl yourself up into a little ball and huddle shivering against the shelves hoping and praying that whatever’s happening to you will pass. A panic attack can strike anyone anywhere and without warning.
The following list of conditions come under the vast umbrella that is known as Anxiety Disorders as classified by the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Many people don’t realize it but they might be suffering from GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as it’s known. In the normal course of events you tend to worry over many things, and some of these might be big and some not so big, but you still worry regardless and wait anxiously until an outcome is reached. This is fine and it’s considered natural. People with GAD however are prone to be chronic worriers and will worry needlessly and endlessly over the smallest thing and will generally continue to do so for a longer period than necessary. They will spend many sleepless nights and many hours in their preoccupied state of mind often being reduced to states of nail biting anxiety. Although worry is natural the excessive worry that GAD sufferers are subject to is unnatural and in the long run unhealthy. This unhealthy behavior doesn’t only affect you but will also encompass your whole family. Even the most loving of people will find it difficult to cope with the constant tension and anxiety that the chronic worrier goes through on a daily basis.
Panic Disorder – The symptoms and causes of panic disorder are exactly the same as for a panic attack. What makes panic disorder different from a panic attack is that while you may suffer only once or twice from a Panic Attack, with Panic Disorder you suffer constantly and on a regular basis. With panic disorder you feel all the symptoms of a panic attack and more, as anxiety and worry creep into the mix as you tend to keep worrying when the next attack will hit you. This in turn builds up a vicious cycle where your anxiety over another panic attack may actually be the cause of it.
Phobias – The two main categories of phobias are social phobia and specific phobia. People with social phobia, otherwise known as social anxiety disorder, have an overpowering and crippling fear of being scrutinized, embarrassed, or humiliated in social situations, which causes them to avoid many potentially pleasurable and meaningful activities. People suffering from social anxiety are often mistaken for being shy and of a generally retiring disposition. This is in fact not the case at all.
People with specific phobia experience an extreme, crippling, and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual physical danger. This fear can cause people to limit their lives unnecessarily as they seek to avoid objects or situations that result in them experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks. Examples of specific phobia are:
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – OCD involves repeated, unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. OCD can hit anytime and anywhere and is an anxiety disorder that leads you ultimately to live a very constrained life. If you don’t get help for your condition then the rituals you go through daily just to do one small thing can take over your life to the point that you’re left debilitated and panic stricken if you’re unable to complete even a small portion of it.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD has been made most famous as occurring in Vietnam War veterans. However, do not be misled into thinking that PTSD only affects war veterans as anyone can suffer from this disorder.
In fact, approximately 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD, with women being twice as susceptible as men. The causes can be extreme and can span from rape to a car accident to the death of a loved one, or perhaps even a near death experience or abuse. Any one of these can cause PTSD. In some cases PTSD can be a crippling and debilitating experience and can even inhibit your lifestyle causing you to shun people and sometimes even leading you into stark despair and depression
Common side effects of either anxiety or panic disorders are depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can also co-exist with illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.