It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, especially if your life is stressful. The COVID-19 pandemic has left more people feeling stressed than ever. However, overwhelming anxiety that is difficult to manage and interferes with day-to-day activities may be indicative of a more serious disorder.
There are five main types of anxiety disorders:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD is most common among members of the military, but it can also occur after any traumatic experience such as a car accident, violent assault, or armed robbery. Even if a person has trouble remembering the incident, the lingering effects of the trauma can subsequently trigger flashbacks and panic attacks, as well as lead to hyper-vigilance and paranoia.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – OCD is characterized by a compulsion to engage in various repetitive behaviors such as hair pulling, counting things, touching objects, washing and cleaning, or other rituals that one develops either subconsciously or consciously to help control their anxiety. However, this only brings temporary relief and thus must be constantly repeated. In extreme cases the compulsion can become so excessive and time-consuming that it becomes disabling.
Panic Disorder – An anxiety attack or panic attack is a distressing or even terrifying experience in which someone cannot control their level of anxiety. It can be triggered by specific circumstances or it can occur out of absolutely nowhere, causing a massive spike in fear and a variety of physical symptoms including heart palpitations, upset stomach, and profuse sweating.
Social Anxiety Disorder – While many people experience a certain level of social anxiety (i.e. public speaking), in some people the feeling of anxiousness becomes so paralyzing that it can be difficult to operate in any social situation, even going to school or work. Also known as social phobia, SAD stems from an extreme sense of self-consciousness and fear of being ridiculed or judged. The end result is someone becoming agoraphobic, meaning that they are afraid to leave their home or go out in public. Truly SAD indeed.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Some people, for seemingly no particular reason, suffer from chronic free-floating anxiety, worry, and nervousness. They may be highly sensitive or extremely shy, and are basically unable to relax or calm down. The symptoms of GAD and neurotic personality are very similar; these include constant fear or worry, irritability, fatigue, physical aches and pains, trouble sleeping, moodiness and pessimism. It may just be that the persistently tense, apprehensive, insecure person is more susceptible to anxiety because they have little natural buffer against stress.
Lucy Van Pelt: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacaphobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?
Charlie Brown: What’s pantophobia?
Lucy Van Pelt: The fear of everything.
Charlie Brown: THAT’S IT!
~A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Clinical anxiety is a real, devastating disorder, one that can dramatically and negatively impact people’s lives. It causes needless mental anguish that interferes with everyday activities and makes it harder to function in society or even to simply enjoy relationships with loved ones.
Over 40 million Americans struggle with anxiety, yet only 36% of people suffering actually pursue treatment. Here are some ways in which you can manage your own anxiety and stress:
- Breathe. Practice taking deep breaths to calm you down and relax your body.
- Exercise. Even a 15-minute walk can improve your outlook.
- Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can worsen anxiety and stress.
- Eat well-balanced meals. A nutritious diet supports a healthy body and mind.
- Cut back on caffeine. It raises blood pressure and can make anxiety worse.
- Be mindful of your thoughts. Is it really as bad as you think? What’s the worst that can happen? Will anyone care five years from now?
- Talk to someone. They may be able to help you feel better.
How to Help Others
If someone you love suffers from an anxiety disorder, you know that it can leave you feeling helpless and not sure what to do. The Mental Health Hotline provides some ideas on how to help someone who is experiencing severe anxiety:
- Recognize when your friend is in trouble.
- Ask if they need help; maybe you can guide them to a safe space.
- Reassure them and offer your support.
- Talk it over sometime when they aren’t having an anxiety attack.
- Help them with relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes.
- Share your coping strategies if you struggle with anxiety yourself.
- Recommend a therapist if you know one.
It’s important to remember that if you are not a trained professional therapist, you cannot expect to cure your friend of their anxieties; your only goal is to be there for them, offer advice, and support them in times of need.
For more tips, check out this Anxiety Attack Support Page: