Anxiety or an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling that you get in your gut when you start worrying about something. The feeling makes you leery, fearful, and uneasy. Often, anxiety manifests in a physical form. You might start sweating profusely, pacing back and forth, or have an elevated heartbeat. Anxiety tends to exacerbate discomfort, causing a cornucopia of emotional problems too.

This particular disorder forms the bedrock of many attendant mental health disorders. The stressors include situations where fears and phobias might arise such as public speaking, competitive situations, making important decisions, testing, deadlines, meeting financial obligations, or being put on the spot. Any aggravating situation can instantly trigger an anxiety-related response.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that is necessary for survival. It alerts us to potential dangers, and keeps us sharp and focused. That anxiety you feel on a rollercoaster when driving at high speed, rushing through a dark alley late at night, or meeting a date for the first time is entirely normal. There is no need to medicate or treat normal anxiety. An anxiety disorder is a different kettle of fish. The fact that it is a disorder indicates that there is nothing orderly about the anxiety you are experiencing. Anxiety disorders impinge upon day-to-day functioning in every way.

How many people in the US suffer from Anxiety Disorders?

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), some 40 million adults across the US have an anxiety disorder. The majority of individuals develop symptoms of anxiety disorders before they turn 21. There are physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety disorders. The physical symptoms include an uncomfortable feeling in the chest and the stomach. An elevated pulse, perspiration, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, tremors, twitches, and shortness of breath are common physical symptoms of anxiety disorders. Emotional symptoms include extreme fear, discomfort, restlessness, tension, and dread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has conducted extensive analysis into anxiety-related disorders. During 2019, 2.7% of adults experienced severe symptoms of anxiety within two weeks, 3.4% of adults experienced moderate symptoms of anxiety in the past two weeks, and 9.5% of adults experienced mild symptoms of anxiety in the past two weeks.

The age group 18 – 29 years of age was worst hit by anxiety-related disorders. As people age, anxiety tends to taper off. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) manifests physically and emotionally. Anxiety forms the basis of many disorders and conditions related to mental health and wellness.

Anxiety is diagnosed according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) by a mental health professional. These include Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC), psychiatrists, and other trained medical staff. The diagnostic methodology identifies the specific anxiety disorder and its attendant symptoms. Treatment of anxiety-related disorders involves a multi-tiered approach, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), antianxiety medication and/or antidepressants (SSRI, SNRI), and other proven treatment regimens such as TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), neurological treatments by capsulotomy, DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation), or others.

Prevalence of OCD in the US 

Anxiety and OCD are inextricably linked. OCD demographics state that 2.3% of adults in the US have this mental disorder, while 1% – 2.3% of children in the US as well as adolescents also face OCD. As an anxiety disorder in its own right, OCD is particularly difficult to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Individuals with OCD are overwhelmed by pervasive thoughts. In an attempt to quell the unrelenting, pervasive thoughts, certain actions are performed. Unfortunately, these do not have the desired effect over the long term. At best, they provide temporary relief.

OCD sufferers struggle with one of several themes, including organization and symmetry, catastrophe, contamination, taboo thoughts, et cetera. Anxiety is central to what people with OCD suffer from. Yet OCD sufferers are distinct since CBT can help with this anxiety disorder. Since there is a genetic component to OCD, it is also regarded as separate from other anxiety disorders.

What Types of Anxiety Disorders Are There?

Anxiety disorders come in different shapes and sizes. These include the following:

  • Phobias – a phobia is an extreme form of fear that goes well beyond what is considered normal fear or concern. Phobias can be about situations or objects. People have phobias of heights, confined spaces, flying, driving, groups of people, et cetera.
  • Panic disorders – these disorders are characterized by panic attacks. A panic attack has a sudden onset, and it is laden with intense fear, even when there is no apparent danger. Panic attacks are brought on suddenly and last for several minutes at a time. Your body reacts to panic disorders with all the signs and symptoms of heightened stress. These can include dizziness, abdominal discomfort, heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts that are pervasive and unrelenting. These are followed up by compulsive actions and behaviors designed to quell those thoughts. It’s a downward spiral that can never be satiated. OCD behaviors include cleaning, counting, checking, washing, all in the hopes of making the obsessive thoughts go away. These ritualistic behaviors do not provide lasting relief.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – PTSD is a reaction to a life-changing event. These traumatic events can occur after violent physical assaults or the threat of violent physical assaults and trauma. Natural disasters, wars, accidents, and repeated abuse can trigger PTSD. This anxiety disorder manifests with all of the same symptoms as panic disorders and phobias.
  • Social anxiety disorders – otherwise known as social phobias, are characterized by tremendous self-consciousness and stress. This occurs any time an individual is inserted into a social situation. The individual might be extremely fearful of interacting with individuals or groups of people. Naturally, social anxiety is less severe around familiar people and heightened around strangers and in business situations.

Regardless of the specific type of anxiety disorder, patients can seek effective treatments that can better manage anxiety-related mental health conditions.