What Anxiety Disorders Really Look Like

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To someone who does not suffer from anxiety, anxiety disorders probably seem very strange. The popular opinion seems to be that people should just “think mind over matter” and simply “get over it.” Unfortunately anxiety disorders are much more complicated than that. They can be severely debilitating. While seeking appropriate behavioral health services will help, living with an anxiety disorder means constantly struggling with the strange thoughts and behaviors that threaten an otherwise healthy life.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

To fully understand what anxiety disorders look like, it helps to know the different types of disorders. There are several types of recognized anxiety disorders, including:

  • Social anxiety disorder. Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder makes the affected person feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. An intense fear of being judged by others or being viewed as behaving strangely is common.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. GAD means worrying excessively and uncontrollably about daily life events and activities. They often have trouble sleeping and focusing at work or school, and they may even experience physical symptoms like muscle soreness and fatigue.
  • Panic disorder. People with panic disorder often have panic attacks including sweating, heart palpitations, chest pain and struggling to breathe. A feeling of terror and panic will strike them suddenly and repeatedly without warning.

Though it is not always the case, one patient can have more than one type of anxiety disorder. They can begin as early as childhood, at which point treatment from a child psychiatrist is recommended.

Symptoms and Causes

We all face times of high stress and anxiety in our lives. But to a person suffering from an anxiety disorder, life is very different. Symptoms vary depending on the person and the type of disorder, but general symptoms include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
  • Sweaty palms and feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • An inability to feel calm
  • Difficulty staying present in the moment
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness, feeling faint

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown. They are not the result of personal weakness or poor upbringing. Many are caused by a combination of factors, including situational stress and changes in the brain.

What Anxiety Disorders Feel Like

For the most part, people with anxiety disorders worry about the same things others worry about—they just worry more and more often. Minor matters become huge and overinflated in their minds. Common concerns include worries about work or school (“What if I failed that test?” “What if I get fired?”) and worries about family (“What if my parents get sick?” “What if my spouse gets into an accident?”). While most of us have the ability to keep our worries in check with rational thinking, people with an anxiety disorder don’t have those natural calming mechanisms. They also feel more physical ailments than the rest of us, including muscle pain, racing hearts and fatigue.

So while people suffering from anxiety disorders may not seem ill at first glance, they should never be told to just “get over it.” Learning to live with anxiety disorders takes a large amount of behavioral therapy, medication and self-care.