Worry, shallow breathing, sweaty palms—the symptoms of anxiety afflict many modern people. Anxiety is a common reaction to stress that ranks as the U.S.’s most common mental health issue, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And while anxiety strikes most people from time to time, sometimes those feelings develop into a full-blown disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Everybody feels stress sometimes, but when people’s excessive worrying impacts their daily functioning, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may have developed. This disorder may lead to people constantly thinking about worst-case scenarios, furthering anxiety and feelings of panic.

Worry frequently snowballs, becoming worse the more a person falls victim to uncontrollable thoughts about the future. Symptoms include muscle tension, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, irritability, or gastrointestinal problems. The disorder affects 6.8 million U.S. adults, most of them women.

Panic Disorder

Extreme anxiety sometimes escalates into a panic attack. These scary situations may be characterized by feelings of choking, chest pain, dizziness, breathing problems, or extreme fear. Panic attacks happen quickly and usually subside in a few minutes. This disorder often begins during early adulthood, and more commonly affects women.

About one-third of people who experience panic attacks develop a disorder called agoraphobia. With this condition, also considered panic disorder, people become fearful of having a panic attack someplace without escape, such as a shopping mall or public bus. To protect themselves, people will avoid these places, often becoming shut-ins because of their inescapable, overwhelming fear.

Social Anxiety Disorder

With social anxiety disorders (SAD), people develop an excessive fear of being criticized or judged, making it very difficult for them to work, have friends, or fall in love. The fear inhibits people with SAD from freely being themselves around other people since they’re preoccupied with avoiding scrutiny.

The anxiety can result in avoided social interactions and significantly impact a person’s life. This disorder affects about 15 million U.S. adults, and typically develops around 13 years of age.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In some cases, excessive worry manifests as the need to develop rituals or repeatedly check things in an effort to control the uncontrollable.

While even healthy people might check to make sure they turned the stove off several times, the rituals developed by people with OCD are far more intricate. They might need to complete tasks in a certain order, compulsively wash their hands to avoid germs, or double, triple, and quadruple check things to the point where it disrupts their lives.

As the name says, these behaviors are compulsive, giving the person experiencing the disorder little power over his or her thoughts. Some obsessions take a dark turn toward violence or other unhealthy thoughts.

What is your experience with anxiety disorders? 

Image by Alon via Flickr


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