Everyday anxiety or something more? Here’s how to tell.
Overcome by worry? Feeling anxious on occasion is a normal part of life, like before taking a test or making an important decision. “It allows us to respond appropriately to danger and fear,” says Khadijah Watkins, MD, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. Anxiety disorder, however—which affects nearly 34 percent of the population—is when distress or worrisome thoughts interfere with your ability to function in everyday life. “My anxiety will hijack certain things. So I have to reel myself in and really ask myself: Am I reacting because this is my truth or am I reacting because my anxiety is stepping in?” says Trish Barillas, a life and career coach who has generalized anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders come in many forms and often share similar symptoms, so without a proper diagnosis, the distinction isn’t always clear. Here’s a look at the different types of anxiety disorders—and what to do if you sense that anxiety might be a problem for you.
A phobia is an irrational fear of a person, place, or thing that poses little to no actual threat or danger, like a fear of heights, flying, or enclosed spaces. A person with a phobia may try to avoid situations that involve their fear and feel extreme anxiety or panic when exposed to it.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively about a multitude of things for weeks or months on end. These spiraling worrisome thoughts can cause people with GAD to feel restless, tired, irritable, and on edge.
Social Anxiety Disorder
“Social anxiety disorder is like generalized anxiety disorder, but your worries, concerns and judgments about yourself are exclusively in social situations,” says Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine. People with social anxiety disorder (or “social phobia”) might avoid situations where they have to talk to people, have a hard time making or keeping friends, and be very afraid of offending or being judged by people.
Panic disorder is when a person has recurrent unexpected panic attacks. “You feel overcome by a sense of dread—thoughts of perhaps, I’m going to die or I’m going crazy,” says Dr. Saltz. These episodes of panic trigger a host of physical symptoms which are scary on their own, like heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, and difficulty breathing.
If you suspect anxiety disorder in you or someone you know, it’s worth it to get evaluated by a medical professional. You may not realize how severe your anxiety is—and how much better you could feel.
“You may be living with an anxiety disorder for a long time and think, ‘this is just me, this is just the way life is,’” says Dr. Saltz. “When in fact, you could be a much better version of you if you didn’t have this backpack on your back of all this anxiety.”
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Phobia - simple / specific. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, 2017. (Accessed on January 8, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000956.htm)
Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Göttingen, Germany: Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medical Centre, 2015. (Accessed on January 8, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610617)