Anxiety disorders are common mental health problems that affect many people. Everyone experiences anxiety and fear at times – these are normal and helpful human emotions that help us deal with danger.
Anxiety becomes a disorder when it is irrational, excessive, and when it interferes with a person’s ability to function in daily life. Often there appears to be no obvious or logical reason for the way the person feels. This may make an anxiety disorder even more worrying to the sufferer. Anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety is excessive anxiety and constant worry about many things. The focus of the anxiety might be family or friends, health, work, money, or forgetting important appointments. We may diagnose a person with a generalized anxiety disorder if:
- The anxiety and worry have been present most days over six months
- The person finds it difficult to control their anxiety.
Social phobias – fear of social situations
People with social phobia are afraid of being negatively judged or evaluated by others. This leads to fear of doing something that may humiliate them in public – for example, public speaking, using public toilets, eating and drinking in public, writing in public, or any social encounters such as parties or workplaces.
Specific phobias – for example, a fear of open spaces (agoraphobia) or enclosed spaces (claustrophobia)
A person with a specific phobia has a persistent and irrational fear of a particular object or situation. They may fear animals, places, or people. Fear of the object or situation is so severe that a person may experience physical symptoms and panic attacks. Fears may include dogs, blood, storms, spiders, or other objects or situations but, in all cases, the anxiety is both excessive and interfering.
The adult phobia sufferer usually knows that their fear is unreasonable. However, their need to avoid the object, place, or person can significantly restrict their life.
Panic disorders – frequent and debilitating panic attacks.
Panic or anxiety attacks are common. Panic disorders are less common, affecting about 2% of the population. For a person to be diagnosed with a panic disorder, they would usually have had at least four panic attacks each month over an extended period. Often panic attacks may not be related to a situation but come on spontaneously.
An anxiety disorder may lead to social isolation and clinical depression and can impair a person’s ability to work, study and do routine activities. It may also hurt relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. It is common for depression and anxiety to happen at the same time. Depression can be a serious illness with a high risk of self-harm and suicide.
Recovery from an anxiety disorder is possible with the right treatment and support. Effective treatments for anxiety disorders may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy – aims to change patterns of thinking, beliefs, and behaviors that may trigger anxiety.
- Exposure therapy – involves gradually exposing a person to situations that trigger anxiety.
- Anxiety management and relaxation techniques – for example, deep muscle relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, and counseling.
- Medication–this may include antidepressants and benzodiazepines.