Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder among American adults, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18. Categorized within the DSM 5, anxiety disorders include:
While each specific condition has its on criteria for diagnosis, they are clearly distinguished from typical daily stress and worry by their persistent, long-term nature. Symptoms include excessive, difficult to control worry about any variety of topics and manifest physically as:
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to manage everyday tasks such as managing school, work, or maintain relationships. People living with such disorders may struggle to make important phone calls, schedule appointments, or make important decisions. Others can be triggered by specific situations such as public speaking, travelling, or undergoing medical treatment.
Separation Anxiety Disorder most commonly occurs in children, though separation anxiety is a normal stage in development for infants and toddlers. The difference is separation anxiety disorders cause an intense, prolonged emotional reaction to separating from parents or guardians. This can cause issues with activities outside of the home such as going to school or when the parents or guardians go to work. In some cases, separation anxiety disorders can include panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, and fear of losing a parent during separation.
Social Anxiety Disorder is triggered by an overwhelming fear of social situations. More specifically, social anxiety is often rooted in fear of embarrassment, judgement from others, or making negative impressions. Social anxiety may vary in severity, but common factors include anxiety in anticipation of social events, hyper-fixation on perceived errors in social interactions, and avoidance of situations which may lead to criticism or ridicule.
Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent, unanticipated panic attacks and the consistent fear of an impending panic attack. Physical symptoms of panic attacks include an unexplained sense of impending doom or danger, fear of losing control, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, pigheadedness, and feeling detached from reality.
For people with panic disorders, there’s often no distinguishable cause, though tracking panic attacks through journaling can help identify potential triggers. As a mental health disorder, panic disorder is potentially dangerous because attacks can occur without warning during inopportune moments such as when driving, operating heavy machinery, or under other hazardous conditions.
Agoraphobia is a specific anxiety disorder associated with feeling trapped, enclosed, or other situations which cause feelings of helplessness or loss of control. Some people living with agoraphobia is not limited to small spaces. It can be triggered by crowded areas, public transportation, waiting in line, and dark spaces. Agoraphobia can greatly impact one’s ability to socialize, work, or manage other obligations. Co-occurring panic disorders may cause panic attacks with intense physical symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is an excessive, consistent undercurrent of worry or fear that interferes with one’s ability to function normally. Unlike other more specific disorders, generalized anxiety disorder has no obvious reason for worry. Subjects which cause anxiety can vary from inexplicable worry about the health of one’s self or loved ones, financial stress without evident cause, and a skewed perspective of the life problems. People with generalized anxiety disorder may have difficulty handling uncertainty, be indecisive, or struggle to relax.
Unspecified Anxiety Disorder refers to cases in which symptoms for two or more anxiety disorders exist, making it difficult to categorize within any specific disorder. Though distress and interference with daily life is apparent, unspecified anxiety disorders do not meet the criteria of a singular disorder.
Anxiety and Substance Abuse
Self-medication in an attempt to reduce anxiety symptoms is unfortunately not uncommon. People living with anxiety disorders or any mental health disorder are more susceptible to developing co-occurring substance abuse disorders. Most commonly, people with anxiety disorders may seek feels of euphoria and dissociation brought on by cocaine abuse. This illicit drug offers temporary relief from intense physical and emotional symptoms.
However, relief is temporary and may backfire; as a stimulant, cocaine can trigger anxiety attacks and cause worsening symptoms. Additionally, cocaine’s short term effects can quickly cause one to develop dependency or addiction.