An anxiety disorder is a type of mental condition in which a person experiences constant feelings of stress, nervousness, or fear that are severe enough to interfere with his or her daily life. There are a variety of specific types of anxiety disorders that may have different circumstances that trigger those feelings, or a person may suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), in which there is no specific trigger for the anxiety. Anxiety disorders may be caused by an imbalance of the brain chemicals responsible for mood, as well as genetics or traumatic events. Sufferers may be treated with medication to balance brain chemicals, cognitive psychotherapy, in which patients are counseled on how to change their ways of thinking to overcome their anxious feelings, or a combination of both.
Panic disorder, one of the most widespread types of anxiety disorders, is a condition in which a person experiences abrupt feelings of intense fear known as panic attacks. Although panic disorder is considered a mood disorder, it is generally accompanied with physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and sweating, and may even be mistaken for a heart attack or other physical condition by the person suffering from it. Panic attacks may occur at any time without warning, even while a person is sleeping, but are often triggered by specific situations that cause a person anxiety, such as large crowds or confined spaces.
Another one of the more common types of anxiety disorders is social anxiety disorder. Also commonly referred to as social phobia, it is characterized by extreme feelings of nervousness when interacting with other people. People with social anxiety disorder fear being judged or ridiculed by others to the point where it may interfere with their everyday lives and make them unable to hold a job or maintain relationships with others. Even if a person is able to conquer his or her fears and be in social situations, he or she may suffer from extreme stress in the time leading up to the event.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which a person becomes fixated on thoughts about particular fears and performs specific rituals in order to calm these fears. For example, a person with OCD who has a fear of germs may feel intense anxiety if he or she doesn’t wash his or her hands a certain number of times each day for a particular duration each time. OCD is considered one of the more debilitating types of anxiety disorders because it can drastically interfere with a person’s ability to function in everyday situations and may overtake his or her thought processes.
While many types of anxiety disorders naturally develop, others may be triggered by a traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a person has gone through a fearful experience. It may also occur if the event happened to a close friend or family member. PTSD may develop in war veterans, rape or assault victims, or those who have experienced violence, and may cause flashbacks; vivid thoughts of the event that make it difficult to sleep or function; and personality changes, such as becoming less affectionate, more irritable, or even violent.