Types of Anxiety Disorders
From fear of a crowded party or fear of leaving the house to recurring nightmares about a traumatic event, anxiety disorders may take different forms. Here are some of the most common:
Generalized anxiety disorder: If you've been worried, anxious, and expecting a catastrophe to happen for at least six months, and you can't attribute the anxiety to any one thing, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). One of the most common of the anxiety disorders, GAD affects an estimated four million Americans.
Panic attacks: While GAD is a constant underlying state of anxiety, panic attacks strike without warning and usually last only a few minutes. A person who experiences panic attacks is forced to deal with a pounding heart, shortness of breath, and faintness. "And people may associate the panic attack with the place they were when they had it," says Dr. Carll. "For instance, if you had your first panic attack in a restaurant having dinner you may start to associate restaurants with being anxiety-provoking and start avoiding restaurants. But in reality the attacks are typically biological and not related to anything in the environment," she says.
Panic disorder: When panic attacks occur frequently and cause constant worry, the condition is defined as panic disorder. Panic disorder strikes an estimated 2.4 million people a year and usually develops between the late teens and early adulthood. People with panic disorder may also suffer from substance abuse and agoraphobia (fear of public places).
Social anxiety disorder: Everyone feels nervous and anxious in social situations from time to time. But for people who have social anxiety disorder (SAD), the normal feelings of nervousness become extreme; they experience an intense fear of being observed and criticized in a social situation. "If you have social phobia to the point that you don't want to go to parties or socialize and you avoid doing a variety of things, that's problematic," Dr. Carll says. Social phobia usually begins in the mid-teens, although it can occur in children, and may be accompanied by substance abuse, depression, and agoraphobia.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder: A severe anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes the sufferer to have recurrent and persistent impulses and unwanted thoughts. To control these thoughts, the person performs certain actions, such as repeated hand washing, re-checking the position or whereabouts of objects in their house, or silently repeating words. More than half of sufferers experience the obsessions without the compulsions. OCD is one anxiety disorder that occurs equally as often in men as in women, and it affects 3.3 million Americans a year.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: The most severe of the anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) follows exposure to a traumatic event, such as rape, childhood abuse, natural disasters, life-threatening accidents, and war-related or other violence. "PTSD is caused by an external event and can also affect people who have observed a traumatic event. For most people who experience trauma, the anxiety subsides, but PTSD is diagnosed if the anxiety symptoms persist for more than a month. These symptoms may last for months or years," explains Dr. Carll. Symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the traumatic event (with flashbacks, for example), feeling emotionally numb, and increased arousal (such as feeling on edge, being easily startled, and having sleeping difficulties).