The type of Anxiety Disorder depends on the underlying focus of the fear (e.g. social situations; contamination; worry about everything). It is possible to experience more than one Anxiety Disorder at the same time:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
The individual experiences excessive, uncontrolled worry and anxiety about everyday situations and events. They are often apprehensive that bad things will happen to themselves and loved ones (e.g. financial disasters; serious health problems; interpersonal conflict). The impact of this disorder is extensive, as the person is likely to worry about most situations. For this reason they can find it difficult to get sleep and physically it may manifest as headaches and stomach aches.
The fear of being in places or situations from which it maybe difficult or embarrassing to escape, or that help may be unavailable if required. This can result in avoidance of supermarkets and shopping centers, crowds, confined spaces, public transport, lifts, motorways or tall buildings. This can lead to problems with isolation, employment and activities such as shopping and driving.
The occurrence of panic attacks in ordinary, everyday situations. A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense anxiety or terror where the person experiences heart palpitations, shaking, the sensation of shortness of breath and tightness of chest, chills/hot flushes and light headedness. The individual may have an overwhelming feeling of fear with thoughts of loss of control or death during the attack. These symptoms may be mild or severe and may last a short or long time. The person will often avoid situations where they are afraid they may have another episode, leading to the development of panic disorder with agoraphobia.
An overwhelming and irrational fear about a specific object or situation (e.g. heights; spiders; water; dust). The intense feelings of fear and anxiety are not experienced until the person encounters the object or situation, so the individual learns to avoid the ‘triggers’ of their anxiety in attempt to control their feelings. Unfortunately, this coping strategy only serves to cement the irrational fear, making it more difficult to confront and the person more likely to avoid the object or situation.
A persistent fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in social situations which can lead to panic. The individual believes in the company of others they will act inappropriately, be judged negatively and cause ridicule themselves. This can result in avoidance of situations where the person believes there is potential for the fear to occur. For example some people stop eating, drinking or speaking in public and gradually isolate themselves.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A condition where the individual experiences constant, unabated and unwanted thoughts (obsessions). These obsessions result in intense feelings of anxiety and panic. In an attempt to control the thoughts and reduce the anxiety, the person engages in elaborate and repetitive rituals (compulsions), which may consist of hand washing, checking and counting tasks. These compulsions are often very time consuming and impact significantly on daily functioning.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
An anxiety condition where the person re-experiences the fear and terror of a traumatic life event after the situation has passed. The individual re- experiences the traumatic event through distressing thoughts, flashbacks (sensory hallucinations of the event), nightmares, acute physical anxiety symptoms and hyper arousal (e.g. being excessively alert and jumpy to loud noises). The person is likely to avoid any situations or stimulus that could possibly act as a ‘trigger’ to these thoughts and feelings. This often results in extreme isolation and can impact on daily functioning.