We all feel nervous or worried at times. This anxiety can be a helpful feeling when it motivates us or warns us of danger. An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, causes unexpected or unhelpful anxiety that seriously impacts our lives, including how we think, feel, and act.
What are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses. The different types of anxiety disorders include:
A phobia is an intense fear around a specific thing like an object, animal, or situation. Most of us are scared of something, but these feelings don’t disrupt our lives. With phobias, people change the way they live in order to avoid the feared object or situation.
Panic disorder involves repeated and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense fear that lasts for a short period of time. It causes a lot of physical feelings like a racing heart, shortness of breath, or nausea. Panic attacks can be a normal reaction to a stressful situation, or a part of other anxiety disorders. With panic disorder, panic attacks seem to happen for no reason. People who experience panic disorder fear more panic attacks and may worry that something bad will happen as a result of the panic attack. Some people change their routine to avoid triggering more panic attacks.
Agoraphobia is fear of being in a situation where a person can’t escape or find help if they experience a panic attack or other feelings of anxiety. A person with agoraphobia may avoid public places or even avoid leaving their homes.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder involves intense fear of being embarrassed or evaluated negatively by others. As a result, people avoid social situations. This is more than shyness. It can have a big impact on work or school performance and relationships.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worry around a number of everyday problems for more than six months. This anxiety is often far greater than expected—for example, intense anxiety over a minor concern. Many people experience physical symptoms too, including muscle tension and sleep problems.
Other mental illnesses
Some mental illnesses are no longer classified as anxiety disorders, though anxiety or fear is a major part of the illnesses.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is made up of unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause anxiety (obsessions) or repeated actions meant to reduce that anxiety (compulsions). Obsessions or compulsions usually take a lot of time and cause a lot of distress.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after a very scary or traumatic event, such as abuse, an accident, or a natural disaster. Symptoms of PTSD include reliving the event through nightmares or flashbacks, avoiding reminders of the traumatic event, and feeling unsafe in the world, even when a person isn’t in danger.
Who do they affect?
Anxiety disorders can affect anyone at any age, and they are the most common mental health problem. Sometimes, anxiety disorders are triggered by a specific event or stressful life experience. Anxiety disorders may be more likely to occur when we have certain ways of looking at things (like believing that everything must be perfect) or learn unhelpful coping strategies from others. But sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be a reason.