What are anxiety disorders?
We all have anxiety feelings, worry and fear sometimes. These can be normal responses to certain situations. For example, you might worry about a job interview or paying a bill on time. These feelings can make you aware of the risks and what to do in a difficult or dangerous situation. This reaction is known as “fight or flight”.
By releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, your brain responds to a threat or danger. Although the danger is not real, these hormones cause physical symptoms of anxiety. Once the threatening situation is over, your body will usually return to normal.
But if you have an anxiety disorder, these feelings of fear and danger can linger and interrupt your daily routine long after the threat has subsided. They can make you feel like things are worse than they really are.
Each anxiety disorder experience is different. Not all people with an anxiety disorder will experience the same symptoms.
Mental symptoms of anxiety can include:
- racing thoughts,
- uncontrollable excessive thinking,
- difficulty concentrating,
- feelings of terror, panic or “impending doom”,
- feeling irritable,
- increased vigilance,
- sleep problems,
- changes in appetite
- want to escape the situation you find yourself in, and
If you dissociate yourself, you might feel like you are not connected to your own body. Or as if you are watching things going on around you, without feeling it.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:
- heavy and rapid breathing,
- hot flashes or flushing,
- dry mouth,
- hair loss,
- rapid heartbeat,
- extreme fatigue or lack of energy
- dizziness and fainting, and
- upset stomach and nausea.
Anxiety can lead to depression if left untreated.
Types of anxiety and causes
What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Picking the skin
- Hair pulling
- Health anxiety
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is common. The main symptom of GAD is worrying too much about different activities and events. You often feel anxious if you have GAD. You might feel “nervous” and alert to your surroundings.
It can affect your daily life. You may find that this affects your ability to work, travel, or leave home. You might also tire easily, or have trouble sleeping or concentrating.
If you have GAD, it is common to have other conditions such as depression or other anxiety disorders.
GAD can be difficult to diagnose because it lacks some of the unique symptoms of other anxiety disorders. Your doctor is likely to say that you have GAD if you’ve been feeling anxious most days for six months, and it has negatively impacted areas of your life.
You will have regular panic attacks with no specific trigger if you have panic disorder. They can come on suddenly and be intense and scary.
Symptoms of panic disorder can include the following.
- An overwhelming sense of dread or fear.
- Chest pain or a feeling that your heart beat is irregular.
- Feeling like you may be dying or having a heart attack.
- Sweating and hot flashes or chills and chills.
- A dry mouth, shortness of breath or a feeling of suffocation.
- Nausea, dizziness and a feeling of fainting.
- Numbness, tingling, or tingling sensation in the fingers.
- A need to go to the bathroom.
- A moving stomach.
- Ringing in your ears.
You can also dissociate yourself during a panic attack. Like feeling detached from yourself.
Certain situations can cause panic attacks. For example, you may have a panic attack if you don’t like small places but have to use an elevator.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. A lot of people can worry about social situations, but if you suffer from social anxiety, you will have intense fear or fear of social or performance situations which will happen before, during or after the event.
Some common situations in which you might experience anxiety are as follows.
- Speak in public or in groups.
- Meet new people or strangers.
- Eat or drink in public.
You may be worried that you are doing something or acting in an embarrassing way.
You might be aware of the physical signs of your anxiety. This can include sweating, a fast heartbeat, a shaky voice, and flushing. You may be worried that others will notice or judge you. You may find that you try to avoid certain situations. You may realize that your fears are excessive, but you are having a hard time controlling them.
Questions will be asked by your doctor related to your symptoms. And can also ask you to fill out a questionnaire. It will help them find out how anxious you feel in social situations. For a full assessment, they may refer you to a mental health specialist.
You can request a phone appointment with your GP if it would be too difficult for you to see him in person.
A phobia is an overwhelming fear of an animal, feeling, object, place, or situation.
Phobias are stronger than fears. They develop when a person has an increased sense of danger in the face of a situation or object. A phobic person can organize their daily routine to avoid what is causing them anxiety.
Common examples of phobias are as follows.
- Animal phobias. These spiders, snakes or rodents.
- Environmental phobias. Such as heights and sprouts.
- Situational phobias. Like going to the dentist.
- Bodily phobias. Like blood or being sick.
- Sexual phobias. Such as performance anxiety.
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where it can be difficult to escape. Or situations where things go wrong and help would not be available. It could be the following:
- Leave your house.
- Be in public spaces.
- Use of public transport.
- Being in crowded spaces.
You may find that these situations make you anxious, panicked, and anxious. There are some situations that you can completely avoid. It can affect everyday life.
Agoraphobia can make it difficult to make an appointment with your GP to discuss your symptoms. You might not feel able to leave your home or go to the doctor’s office. You can arrange a phone appointment if you have symptoms of agoraphobia. A general practitioner will decide the best treatment options for you based on what you tell them.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
You will have obsessions, compulsion, or both if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Obsession. An obsession is an unwanted thought or image that you think about over and over again that is largely beyond your control. These can be hard to ignore. These thoughts can be upsetting, which can make you feel distressed and anxious.
- Compulsion. A compulsion is something that you think about or do repeatedly to relieve anxiety. It can be hidden or obvious. Like saying a sentence in your head to calm yourself down. Or check that the front door is locked.
You might think that something bad will happen if you don’t do these things. You may realize that your thinking and behavior are not logical, but still have trouble stopping.
Talk to your GP if you think you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. They should discuss the treatment options with you. Or you can try referring yourself to an NHS voice processing service.
Picking the skin
Picking the skin is medically known as dermatillomania. It is an impulse control disorder. You will sting your skin regularly. Often you will choose healthy skin. It can damage your skin, including bleeding, bruising, and sometimes permanent marks. You will usually choose your facial skin, but you can also choose other areas of the body. You will have a hard time stopping doing it.
No one knows the cause of the picking of the skin. It is believed that it could be a type of addiction. Or it relieves tension and stress. It is common to have obsessive-compulsive disorder and skin addiction at the same time.
Your GP may ask you to see a mental health doctor such as a psychiatrist for a diagnosis.
Hair pulling is medically known as trichotillomania. It is an impulse control disorder. You feel the need to pull your hair out if you are suffering from this condition. It can come from your scalp or other places such as your arms, eyelashes, legs, or pubic area. You will have a hard time stopping doing this.
You may feel a buildup of tension that you can relieve by pulling on the strand of hair.
It can be difficult to stop and can lead to hair loss. This in turn can make you feel guilty, embarrassed, and affect how you feel about yourself or the way your friends and family see you.
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will look at the following.
- You tear your hair out repeatedly, causing noticeable hair loss
- Before you pull your hair out you feel increasing tension
- You feel relief or pleasure when tearing your hair
- There is no underlying disease, such as a skin condition, that causes you to pull your hair out
- Pulling out your hair affects your daily life or causes you distress.
You can have health anxiety if you spend a lot of time worrying about yourself if you are sick. Or fear of getting sick. You can:
- worry that your doctor has missed something,
- for signs of illness, check your body a lot,
- you are constantly concerned about your health,
- spend a lot of time asking people if they think you are sick
- spending a lot of time watching health information on the Internet, television, or newspapers, or
- act like you are sick.
Symptoms like headaches or a fast heart rate can be caused by anxiety. But if you suffer from health anxiety, you may mistake them for signs of illness.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
You will have upsetting thoughts about your appearance if you have BDD. Thoughts do not disappear and have a great effect on daily life.
It is not the same as being conceited about your appearance. You may believe that you are ugly and that everyone sees you as ugly, even if they reassure you that it is not true. Or you may think people are focusing on an area of your body such as a scar or birthmark. It can be very painful and lead to depression.
You can spend a lot of time doing the following:
- Look at your face or your body in the mirror.
- Compare your features with those of other people.
- Cover yourself with a lot of makeup.
- Think about plastic surgery when you don’t need it.
Talk to your GP if you think you have BDD. They should discuss the treatment options with you. The GP can organize a team with more BDD experience to help you.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
You can have PTSD if your anxiety symptoms developed after a stressful or distressing event. Or if you have suffered trauma for a long time.
What causes anxiety disorders?
We don’t fully understand what causes anxiety disorders. But it is believed that the following factors can cause anxiety.
Genetic. Some people seem to be born more anxious than others. You can experience anxiety through your genes.
Life experience. It could be bad experiences such as abuse or the loss of a loved one. It can also include big life changes like moving, losing your job, or becoming pregnant.
Drugs. The caffeine in coffee and alcohol can make you anxious. Illicit drugs, also known as street drugs, can also have an effect.
Conditions. Sometimes you know what’s causing your anxiety. When the problem goes away, so does your anxiety.