A Mini-Guide to Anxiety Disorders (and What to Do if You Have One)

by on August 13, 2013

smile ballDo you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about breaking a shoelace? Do you start sweating, shaking and stuttering the moment you walk out in public? Do you have an extreme, irrational fear that you rearrange your life to avoid? 

If yes, you may be in for some of that proverbial good news and bad news. The bad news is you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. The good news is you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Why an Anxiety Disorder Can be Good News

Knowing that you’re suffering from a disorder can immediately take a major load off your body, mind and soul. Instead of worrying that you are “weird,” “abnormal” or even losing your mind, the symptoms you may be experiencing can be typical for whatever condition from which you suffer.

Because anxiety disorders are often genetic, that also means you have no control or part in why you ended up with it in the first place. This fact can take another massive load off your body, mind and soul. It’s honestly not your fault!

Another cause behind anxiety disorders can be traumatic experiences in the past or how those experiences were handled – or not. Again, the disorder that stemmed from the reaction or experience is not your fault through something you purposely did or said to make it happen.

Isn’t it nice when things aren’t your fault?

Not all anxiety disorders are created equal, and you may have a single disorder, overlapping disorders or even a combination of one or more disorders. Like other mental health issues, disorders can start to pile up if they remain untreated and are left to fester and grow. That’s another good point about knowing you have a disorder: it also means you can take action to treat it.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

A rundown on some of the more common anxiety disorders come from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and WebMD. Suffering from infrequent symptoms of any of the disorders may not mean much, but symptoms that persist for a month or more may indicate the presence of a disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder 

If you’re anxious or worried about everything, all the time and for no particular reason you may be suffering from GAD. True GAD-ers will not be able to overcome the all the worry, even if the worry is about things are inconsequential and the worry is greatly magnified. The worries are also often strong enough to interfere with their daily lives.

All that worrying brings on a slate of symptoms that can include sleeplessness, irritability, sweating, fatigue, muscle tension or twitching, hot flashes and a doozy of a headache.

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are the star of the show for those with panic disorder, and that star blasts front and center with sweating, shaking, a racing heart, chest pains, shortness of breath and other symptoms that make you feel as if you must escape or you’re going to explode.

One of your biggest worries is experiencing an attack, followed by why these attacks are happening and what the heck they may mean.

This disorder can bring on an abrupt bout of extreme fear that can last up to 10 minutes before it decides to shimmy on its way.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder can give you the same symptoms as a panic attack, with the racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating and shaking. This disorder comes with an extreme fear of social situations and can often hinder success in the workplace, at school or in personal relationships.


Irrational fears of places, situations or things are the earmark of phobias. The fears are greatly exaggerated and far beyond your control. To the best of your knowledge, you never sat down and decided to irrationally fear anything. Those suffering from phobias may rearrange their entire lives to avoid whatever they fear, even when they recognize their fear is irrational.

Phobias can be further broken down into different types, such as: 

  • Simple phobia: Fear triggered by a specific situation or thing, such as fear of spiders or fear hardware stores at night
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of being trapped in a specific situation or place compounded of fear of not being able to find help or fear of suffering a panic attack while trapped
  • Social phobia: Fear of meeting new people, social situations or being judged, humiliated or embarrassed by others 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

As the name suggests, OCD is marked by obsessions, or intrusive, repetitive, unwelcome thoughts. The compulsive part of the name then kicks in, with compulsive, ritualistic behavior used to eradicate or prevent the obsessive thoughts.

Examples include:

  • Fear of contamination, which can lead to compulsive handwashing
  • Fear of losing things, which can lead to compulsive hoarding or counting
  • Fear of losing control, which can lead to compulsive cleaning, counting, etc. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Persistent, horrifying memories or thoughts are common marks of PTSD, as is actually re-living a horrifying event. Such intrusions of past horror can lead to sleep issues, avoiding places or situations that are similar to the event, being easily startled or being emotionally numb. It may take symptoms years to surface after the event, or they can crop up in a matter of months. 

Diagnosis and Treatment 

If any of these disorder profiles hits very close to home, your next move may be seeking out a therapist to further discuss the issues. Even if it’s only to confirm or deny a diagnosis, talking with someone you trust is always helpful, especially for alleviating anxiety of any sort.

Effective treatment for anxiety issues generally involve some type of therapy, often cognitive behavioral therapy, which allows you to look at how your beliefs shape your actions as well as ways to challenge beliefs that may not be true. Medication may be another option, used in conjunction with therapy, to help alleviate your anxiety.

Healthy lifestyle habits can also help to reduce overall anxiety by keeping your body and mind well-rested, well-nourished and balanced. Other practices you may want to explore include meditation, mindfulness and a regular exercise routine. Check out more helpful lifestyle tips in our three-part series Emotional Fluidity: Learning to ‘Surf’ Anxiety.

One more tip is to know you are never alone. With WebMD reporting more than 19 million Americans suffer from some type of anxiety disorder, you have plenty of company. You are also likely to have a few folks willing to listen as well as reach out their hands to help.


Photo Credit: bottled_void via Compfight cc

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