Feeling anxious occasionally, like before a big date or test, is normal. But some types of anxiety are chronic and can interfere with your enjoyment of life.
Experiencing anxiety now and then is a normal part of life — whether you are anxious about an event or a challenge that’s worrisome, exciting, or happy.
For example, anxious feelings can develop if you are proposing marriage, discussing a problem with a boss, worried about missing a flight, or for countless other reasons. Stage fright, marked by anxiety before performing in public, and test anxiety are common types of anxiety that can make people feel sometimes downright awful.
Anxiety is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response. And, in extreme circumstances, it can save your life. If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, like an out of control car careening toward you or a wild animal about to attack, your neuroendocrine system releases hormones that prepare your body to run away quickly or stay and face a threat.
But even if you aren’t facing actual harm, anxiety can sometimes cause physical symptoms due to the fight-or-flight response, including a revved-up heart rate, sweating, upset stomach, frequent urination, and headaches.
Thankfully, anxious feelings often pass quickly. But for some people, anxiety involves more than temporary fear or worry.
There are types of anxiety that tend to persist and even worsen over time. These anxiety disorders can potentially interfere with relationships, work, school, social activities, and other daily activities, the American Psychological Association points out.
Understanding types of anxiety
Anxiety disorders are common in both adults and children, and more than 31 percent of American adults develop an anxiety disorder sometime in their life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
There are several major types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is marked by persistent anxiety and exaggerated worry, even when there is little or nothing that should be triggering those feelings. If you suffer from GAD, you may constantly feel anxious about your health or finances or have an ongoing feeling of dread that something bad is about to happen. This type of anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating, the American Psychological Association explains.
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety characterized by recurrent panic attacks that produce symptoms such as a fast and pounding heartbeat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, or a feeling of choking, abdominal distress, dizziness, and a sense of impending doom. Because panic attacks happen suddenly, with no warning, panic disorder sufferers can become so anxious over the next episode they restrict their normal activities.
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is a type of anxiety associated with avoidance of social situations that spark fears of being judged or embarrassed. People with this disorder typically feel nervous and self-conscious in front of other people and are anxious about being rejected or offending others. They may become shaky, sweaty, and nauseous if they have to spend time in a social setting, the National Institute of Mental Health points out.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by persistent, obsessive, and anxious feelings and thoughts, usually accompanied by routines or rituals (compulsions). For instance, people with this type of anxiety may compulsively wash their hands countless times a day because they worry about germs, or they may repeatedly go over their work to check and recheck for errors.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most serious types of anxiety disorders. It may develop after a severe physical or emotional trauma such as serving in a war zone, being caught in a natural disaster, experiencing a serious accident, or being the victim of a violent crime. Symptoms include flashbacks of the trauma, nightmares, and frightening thoughts, producing often severe anxiety that can disrupt a person’s routine and daily life for months or even years after the trauma has passed.
Help for anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety that lingers, worsens, or interferes with your work, social, or personal life, it’s time to get help. Talk to your family doctor and consider seeking therapy with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other therapist who treats anxiety.
The good news is there are effective treatments for all types of anxiety. Researchers have found behavioral treatments alone – or used along with medication, if needed – are highly effective in treating most people suffering from an anxiety disorder.
The majority of people who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or even eliminate symptoms after a couple of months of psychotherapy for their type of anxiety — and many notice improvements with just a few therapy sessions, the American Psychological Association notes.
July 17, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN