Anxiety can be a symptom of an underlying serious concern, such as an anxiety disorder. If you’re struggling with anxiety symptoms, you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting more than 40 million adults yearly. There are ten anxiety disorders listed in the DSM-5, so understanding the symptoms of these conditions may help you know when to seek support.
What Are The Different Anxiety Disorders?
There are several anxiety disorders someone may live with. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), outlines ten distinct conditions, including the following:
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Specific phobias
- Social anxiety disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Selective mutism
- Substance or medication-induced anxiety disorder
- Anxiety disorder due to another medical condition
- Other specified anxiety disorder
In the DSM-5, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is listed under obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is listed under trauma and stressor-related disorders. For this reason, they are not anxiety disorders. Below are further explanations of the most common anxiety disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder in the US, which causes a general sense of worry, panic, fear, and anxiety daily. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, you might feel anxiety while completing daily tasks, with no known cause.
GAD may cause you to worry about daily tasks, work, what others think of you, and whether an adverse event might occur. It can be frustrating and confusing for people to feel this way, but GAD is a treatable condition and can often be managed with a combination of medication and therapy. However, consult a medical doctor before starting, changing, or stopping any medication.
Specific phobias involve a severe fear of an object, situation, person, location, animal, or idea. For example, someone might have a phobia of heights, blood, or snakes. Each phobia has similar symptoms but is focused on a different fear. If you have a phobia, you might avoid any situation that could incite fear. Phobias are diagnosed when your avoidance and fear impact daily functioning.
Agoraphobia is a type of phobia and an anxiety disorder. It involves the fear of having a panic attack or being unable to escape in a public situation. People with this condition may not go outside, shop at the store, or go to public events due to fear.
People with separation anxiety may fear being alone or without their loved ones. When separated, they may worry that the people they care about will die, be harmed, or disappear and abandon them. This fear may lead them to anxious behaviors like reassurance seeking or asking someone to stay home when they want to go out.
People who have panic disorder experience panic attacks, which are extreme short-term bursts of fear and dread. Panic attacks involve physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Some people also experience abdominal pain when they have a panic attack.
Social Anxiety Disorder
When someone has social anxiety disorder, they may have a significant fear of spending time with others. They might struggle to speak when in the company of others, stutter, or become mute. A core symptom of social anxiety disorder is a fear of being judged, embarrassing oneself, or receiving criticism.
Treatments For Anxiety
Many treatment options are available for people diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Working with a mental health professional to reduce symptoms or achieve symptom remission is often possible. Below are several options.
Doctors may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help you control anxiety symptoms in the short term. Anti-anxiety medications may offer a soothing impact or cause you to become sleepy. Some work by lowering blood pressure, and others work by changing your brain chemistry. However, please speak with your doctor before choosing a medication and ensure you follow up with them to report any side effects or dosage change requirements.
Therapy can be significantly effective for anxiety. Research shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medication for treating some forms of anxiety, as it addresses underlying causes that can contribute to these conditions.
Anxiety isn’t the same for everyone, and what you’re experiencing could be drastically different than what someone with an anxiety disorder is going through. A therapist will work with you to understand why you’re experiencing anxiety and determine the best course of treatment for you, specifically.
For example, social anxiety disorder is one condition that may develop due to childhood trauma or an adverse event. Working through that event may be the first step to understanding the anxiety. People diagnosed with PTSD work with therapists extensively to manage symptoms and develop coping mechanisms. There are several types of therapy for anxiety that you can try, as there are over 400 therapeutic modalities available worldwide.
Types Of Therapy For Anxiety Disorders
Below are a couple of the most common therapeutic modalities for anxiety disorders.
Some therapists use a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to treating anxiety. This therapy style examines maladaptive thought patterns to showcase how they might impact behaviors, beliefs, and emotions. Changing your perspective on a situation may improve your hope and optimism about the future, which might reduce anxiety.
One significant reason cognitive-behavioral therapy is popular is that it works. Feelings of anxiety are not necessarily appropriate for the situation, and they may result in cognitive distortions that could be under your control to change. For instance, you might experience extreme anxiety in social situations and feel unworthy compared to others. The underlying belief in this situation is that other people are judging them and looking at them for flaws. However, if the individual reframes their thought pattern, they may notice that others are more preoccupied with themselves than others around them.
It can take time to make changes, but the cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy has helped millions of people. Consider talking to a therapist about CBT if this approach benefits you.
Another approach to therapy is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Exposure therapy is a way for clients to confront what causes fear, desensitizing them to their fear reactions. This form of therapy is often effective for those with a phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Note that exposure therapy is not forced. Your therapist can work with you to go at your own pace. The only ingredient for success may be a willingness to try. As you go through your fears and compulsive urges, your therapist can help you self-regulate and show yourself that what you fear will not harm you in the ways you think it may.
Lifestyle Changes To Manage Anxiety
It may be beneficial to note that lifestyle changes often reduce anxiety. Doctors recommend getting enough exercise. Even adopting a mild daily exercise routine could help you manage your stress levels and reduce anxiety. For extra benefits, combine exercise with a healthy diet. Note that eating unhealthy food is better than eating no food at all, so look for foods that you enjoy and that fill your body with nutrients.
Other lifestyle changes can also make a difference. Getting enough sleep at night may make you less prone to experiencing certain anxiety symptoms. In addition, try to avoid substance use or too much caffeine, as these can worsen symptoms. Your stress levels can also make a difference in your mental health. Consider stressors in your life that you can reduce with a few lifestyle changes.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
If you’re seeking therapy for an anxiety disorder, you’re not alone, and options are available. One popular option for mental healthcare is online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp.
Online therapy is an affordable and discreet option for those who prefer to talk to a professional from home. It allows clients to match with a therapist suited to their specific needs and talk to someone when convenient. You may also be able to reach out to your therapist by message at any time of day if you have a question or concern.
Research shows that online therapy is effective for treating anxiety, too. One review showed that online CBT led to a 50% improvement in symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression and significantly decreased the impact of stress.
What are the most common anxiety disorders?
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, phobias—extreme fear of specific objects or situations—are the most common, affecting 19 million people in the US each year. Social anxiety disorder (sometimes called social phobia) falls closely behind, affecting about 15 million adults in a given year, and generalized anxiety disorder comes in third, affecting about 6 million adults a year.
Are certain personality types more prone to anxiety disorders?
Certain traits may be risk factors for anxiety disorders. Those who score high on neuroticism (the tendency to feel negative emotions) and self-consciousness, for instance, may be more likely to develop panic disorder and other anxiety disorders. Genetic and environmental factors can also contribute to the development of anxiety.
How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders involve more than just the occasional anxiety or difficulty with stress management that everyday life can bring. People with anxiety disorders experience frequent, intense fear or dread disproportionate to the actual danger.
If you suspect that your stress is excessive or if it starts getting in the way of work, school, relationships and other important areas of your life, consider speaking to a mental health professional.
What vitamins can alleviate anxiety?
Some evidence points to B-vitamins (e.g., B12) and vitamin D supplements as potential add-ons for both anxiety and depression (which often occur together). Adopting a diet rich in these nutrients is also potentially effective.
Other effective strategies to help treat anxiety disorders include attending support groups, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes (like adopting a regular exercise, nutrition, and sleep routine). Treatments that focus on reducing muscle tension, such as stretching and massaging, may also help relax the body and mind and prevent unexpected anxiety attacks.
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