General Information about Anxiety Disorders
There are several different anxiety disorders experienced by adults, and they are all characterized by pervasive feelings of excessive, irrational fear and distress. The anxiety and related symptoms can significantly interfere with one’s daily activities, work responsibilities, and relationships. Each, however, has its own distinct features. Feel free to read a brief description of the symptoms specific to each anxiety disorder. You may also find the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website to be of help.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Chronic, excessive worry or anxiety for a minimum of six months characterizes generalized anxiety disorder. One usually worries about a number of events or situations such as work, health, relationships, and money, and has a very difficult time trying to control the anxiety. Physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and muscle tension occur during this time as well. Irritability is also a common complaint.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Avoidance of social or performance situations, or endurance of these events with extreme discomfort, characterizes social anxiety. Fear of being observed, judged, and scrutinized by others is predominant, despite awareness that this concern is excessive.
Panic Disorder / Agoraphobia
Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, sudden episodes of intense fear and discomfort. Symptoms of a panic attack include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, increased heart rate, chest pain, chills or hot flashes, and fear of going crazy or dying. Agoraphobia is when one avoids, or endures with extreme anxiety, places or situations for fear of having a panic attack and not being able to escape. For example, you may avoid leaving home alone, being in a crowd, or using public transportation because you are fearful that safety will not be within reach in the event of having a panic attack. It is possible to have panic disorder with or without agoraphobic avoidance or to have agoraphobia without ever actually having had experienced a full-blown panic attack.
Avoidance of a specific object or situation, or endurance of the feared stimuli with extreme discomfort, characterizes a specific phobia. Persistent fears of animals, elevators, heights, flying, needles, and natural disasters are common. Depending upon the phobic stimulus and the frequency with which you encounter it, the impairment caused by the phobia may vary. For example, a fear of elevators may cause more distress than a fear of needles if you have to ride an elevator in your office daily but only occasionally visit the doctor.
Although not actually considered an anxiety disorder, we have included hypochondriasis in this section because it shares the pervasive feelings of excessive, irrational fear and distress that characterizes the different anxiety disorders. Hypochondriasis is when one is preoccupied with fears of having, or the belief that one already has, a serious disease. These concerns are based on a misunderstanding of normal bodily symptoms or of a minor physical problem, and the preoccupation persists even after comprehensive medical exams reveal that no medical condition exists.