Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of anxiety disorders is an important step toward getting help for yourself or a loved one. Haverhill Pavilion Behavioral Health Hospital in Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a source of accurate information, reliable guidance, and comprehensive solutions for adults and older adults who have been struggling with anxiety.
Learn about anxiety disorders
Anxiety is something that everyone experiences throughout their lives. It is a natural response to distressing situations. When a person experiences symptoms of anxiety in a way that impacts their ability to function, however, they may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobia.
Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when a person feels fear, apprehension, or excessive worry about various activities or events. These distressing emotions appear without having an identified cause, and the severity of the anxiety can disrupt a person’s life and make it difficult for them to function.
Social anxiety disorder exists when a person feels excessive fear about engaging in social activities. This can include anything from having a conversation or meeting new people to attending a party or speaking in front of others. People who are suffering from social anxiety disorder often believe that others are judging them or that they will embarrass themselves in some way.
Separation anxiety disorder occurs when a person experiences extreme fear or worry regarding separation from someone who is important to them. The worry can stem from an irrational belief that something bad is going to happen to their loved one, or from fearing that they will experience harm themselves. These people often refuse to leave their homes and experience immense distress when left alone.
Panic disorder is a condition where someone suffers from recurring, unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack refers to an intense situation of physical and emotional distress resulting from a drastic surge of fear. The frequency and severity of panic attacks vary drastically and occur without any kind of warning sign or obvious trigger.
Specific phobia is a condition where people experience extreme fear over a specific object or situation. Some common examples of phobias include a fear of flying, spiders, heights, blood, crowded spaces, germs, or snakes. Those who suffer from specific phobia will go to great lengths to avoid the object or situation that they are afraid of. When they encounter the thing that they fear, these individuals will experience such an extreme level of distress that it impairs their ability to function. It is important to note that the fear that results from the phobia is significantly out of proportion to the actual danger that the object or situation can cause.
Common signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders
The signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders often have similarities across all types, but the specific disorder determines which symptoms will most likely affect the person who is suffering from it. For example, those who suffer from panic disorder predominantly experience distressing physical symptoms, whereas someone who is suffering from separation anxiety disorder will present with symptoms that are more emotional.
Examples of the signs that could indicate that a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder include the following:
Generalized anxiety disorder:
- Tiring easily
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty sleeping
Social anxiety disorder:
- Avoiding events or activities that require social interaction
- Irrational fear of being scrutinized or judged
- Excessive fear of being embarrassed
- Refusing to meet or interact with new people
- Avoiding conversations
Separation anxiety disorder:
- Excessive feelings of fear
- Irrational worrying
- Refusing to be alone
- Refusing to leave home
Additionally, people who are suffering from separation anxiety disorder may experience headaches, stomachaches, and nausea when they know that their loved one is going to leave, or if their loved one has left.
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
- Avoidance of certain objects or situations
- Immediate, extreme fear when placed in contact with feared object or situation
When confronted with their phobia, the person will likely suffer from a number of physical responses, including the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to move
- Rise in blood pressure
Possible short-term effects of anxiety disorders
When a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder, they are susceptible to a number of short-term effects, including the following:
- Health problems
- Experimenting with drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate
- Conflict with family and friends
- Withdrawing or isolating oneself
- Decline in work performance
- Job loss
- Feeling helpless
- Feeling hopeless
- Self-harming behaviors
- Suicidal ideation
Potential long-term effects of anxiety disorders
Without receiving treatment for an anxiety disorder, the person who is struggling with the disorder may experience any number of long-term effects. Examples of such effects include the following:
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Ruined relationships
- Chronic unemployment
- Financial problems
- Pervasive sense of hopelessness
- Persistent feelings of helplessness
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Common co-occurring disorders among people who have an anxiety disorder
It is common for people who suffer from an anxiety disorder to struggle with symptoms of other types of mental illness at the same time. Additionally, individuals may suffer from symptoms of multiple types of anxiety disorders simultaneously. Other examples of disorders that frequently co-occur alongside anxiety disorders include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Substance use disorders