We all know what it’s like to feel anxious; for example, we might get sweaty palms before a first date, or notice our heart racing while giving a public speech. Now imagine those feelings, but experiencing them all the time — this is life with an anxiety disorder.
So what exactly is an anxiety disorder and how does it differ from ordinary anxiety? In this guide, we’ll walk you through the seven types of officially classified anxiety disorders — and what treatment looks like for those who need it.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
An anxiety disorder is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the world. And it’s a lot more serious than a little bit of nervousness or social awkwardness — it’s a serious mental health disorder that requires treatment.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
Most often, when people talk about “anxiety”, they’re referring to generalized anxiety disorder. What many people don’t know is that generalized anxiety disorder, although it’s the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder, is far from the only anxiety disorder out there. Here, we’ll walk you through the seven types of anxiety disorders officially classified by the American Psychiatric Society.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is what people typically think of when they hear “anxiety”; the symptoms include feeling nervous or tense, having trouble concentrating and constantly worrying. People with GAD usually worry about a variety of things, including work, school and relationships.
- Panic Disorder: Panic attacks are heightened anxiety attacks that make people experience heart palpitations, intense fear, trembling, sweating and feeling short of breath. Some people experience repeated panic attacks and worry about when their next panic attack will occur — this is called panic disorder.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: People with social anxiety disorder experience anxiety specifically around relationships and social situations. They worry about embarrassing themselves in front of other people, and even if their anxiety symptoms (like blushing) will cause them further embarrassment. This may lead to avoiding social situations altogether.
- Specific Phobia: You might be afraid of spiders, but for people who have a diagnosable phobia of spiders, their fear of spiders nearly controls their lives. People can have a phobia of anything, from spiders and snakes to flying or blood.
- Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia is the specific phobia of being around people, whether in open or closed spaces, or simply leaving their home. People with agoraphobia often avoid having to face their fears by refusing to leave their homes.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: Although we most often think of young children on their first day of kindergarten when we think of separation anxiety, adults can be diagnosed with this anxiety disorder as well. Whether they’re children or adults, people with separation anxiety disorder are extremely fearful of being separated by people they care about, and try to avoid being separated from them at all costs.
- Selective Mutism: Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that mostly appears in children before the age of five. Extreme shyness or anxiety around people may make some children stop talking in certain situations or around certain people.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder and trauma-related disorders were formerly categorized as anxiety disorders, but this changed in 2013 with the new edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual.
What Are the Signs of an Anxiety Disorder?
Each of these anxiety disorders has a different set of symptoms in the DSM-V (the American Psychiatric Society’s official classification of mental health disorders).
However, if you’re generally worried that you or someone you love is battling an anxiety disorder, you should look for signs like:
- Excessive and uncontrollable worrying
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Intense fear of certain situations
- Constantly feeling a sense of dread or doom
- Sleep problems; you’re either sleeping too much or too little
- Changes in appetite; you’re eating much more or much less than usual
- Physical symptoms, like stomachaches or headaches, that are unexplained by medical factors
- Irritability and mood swings
- Intense feelings of restlessness
The only person who can figure out whether you’re battling an anxiety disorder, depression, or something else, is a qualified mental health professional. Self-help tools can help you manage your symptoms, but if your anxiety isn’t going away, it’s important to seek help.
What Are the Treatment Options for Anxiety?
The good news is that all anxiety disorders are treatable conditions. You don’t need or deserve to live with these terrifying feelings forever. The following are evidence-based treatments that have been proven to help people recover from anxiety.
Psychotherapy for Anxiety
One of the first-line treatments that are usually used for any type of anxiety disorder is psychotherapy. The evidence-based therapy methods that have been found to be helpful in the management of anxiety symptoms include:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This treatment method has the largest evidence base supporting it for the treatment of anxiety disorders. CBT is based on the theory that our feelings, thoughts and behaviors are all connected. Most often, the culprit behind our feelings of anxiety is irrational (and incorrect) thoughts. If we can learn to challenge these thoughts, then our anxiety starts to lift.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Recent research studies have proven what Buddhists have been claiming for years: meditation and mindfulness help the mind to relax. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn created a psychotherapy method called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which uses the principles of mindfulness meditation to help people manage their feelings of anxiety and be more present in their lives.
Although it can be scary, this type of therapy is very effective for those with anxiety disorders, especially phobia-related disorders. Patients are asked to intentionally expose themselves, little by little, to the things they are afraid of. When they start to expose themselves to fear and learn how to manage it, the anxiety disorder and phobia have less power over them.
Psychiatric medications are also often used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Especially when the physical symptoms like hyperventilating or shaking begin, it can be hard to mentally calm yourself down from an anxiety attack. In situations of severe anxiety like this, anti-anxiety medications can be very helpful.
One type of anti-anxiety medication that’s typically prescribed, is a category of medication called benzodiazepines. You are probably familiar with these medications under brand names like Xanax and Klonopin.
The problem with medications like these, is people will often build a tolerance to them, so they can sometimes lead to abuse and addiction; however, when used correctly, they can be very effective. Antidepressant medications are also used to treat both anxiety symptoms and associated mood problems, especially because they carry less risks than anti-anxiety medication.
Residential Anxiety Treatment in Colorado
If you’re looking to beat your anxiety once and for all, our residential treatment center can help. At All Points North Lodge, you can recover from anxiety disorders along with other mental illness and addiction in a beautiful setting surrounded by nature.
To learn more about our programs or to schedule a consultation, contact our admissions specialist today.