The Many Faces of Anxiety

The condition known as anxiety can elicit a number of reactions from people. Many view it as a sign of weakness, treating the person experiencing it as a fear-controlled weakling, incapable of properly dealing with the world around him. Others view it as a character flaw that can be overcome, usually by having them continually face situations which cause them anxiety. Others still find that it is a mental problem, one that is easily confused with any number of similar, but not quite the same, psychological conditions. However, outside of the medical profession, most people don’t recognize that anxiety can be likened to an umbrella term, with a few other conditions falling under its jurisdiction.

Panic disorder, which the general public may or may not view as a more extreme form of anxiety, actually falls under the jurisdiction of the latter term’s definition. The two are characterized by the same general set of symptoms. These include extreme dread and fear, though no truly discernible, specific cause can be found. Both conditions have also been known to cause a number of physical side effects, usually the same ones associated with the body’s natural fear response mechanism. The primary difference between the two often lies solely on the intensity of the symptoms, with panic typically causing more noticeable problems than anxiety.

Interestingly, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has also sometimes been categorized as being a sub-form of anxiety. OCD is a psychological conditions that makes a person put an undue level of focus on a given activity or thing, then compels them to perform actions related to said activity or thing. Jack Nicholson is known for having portrayed a character with OCD, with the focus being on cleanliness, in the film “As Good As It Gets.” The anxiety in this situation stems from instances where the patient fights the “compulsive” part of the disorder. Not doing what the mind believes should be done has been known to cause great discomfort to moments of fear and anxiety.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has also been cited as being linked to anxiety. This is particularly true of the PTSD patient who recalls traumatic experiences that are triggered by specific objects, sounds, or locations. This can include anything from being placed in or near the location where the trauma originally occurred. Exposure or the mere threat of exposure can cause extreme anxiety and reactions in a person, with the effect noticeably becoming more intense as the prospect becomes more real. The anxiety can also reach the point where the patient will actively attempt to avoid being exposed to anything that might trigger a relapse of the traumatic memories.

Phobias are often considered to be specialized forms of the general anxiety problem. Unlike panic and the regular form of the condition, a person with a phobia associated feelings of fear and dread with a specific trigger. While PTSD may be associated with a phobia, the two do not always intermingle. In many cases, the fear is completely unfounded, but may be rooted deep in childhood experiences or specific situations.

Other forms of anxiety disorders include:

Generalized anxiety disorder

A person who has this type of anxiety disorder usually experience prolonged anxiety that is often without basis. More accurately, people with generalized anxiety disorders cannot articulate the reason behind their anxiety. This type of anxiety usually last for six months and often affect women. Due to the persistence of the anxiety, people affected with generalized anxiety disorder constantly fret and worry. This results to heart palpitations, insomnia, headaches, and dizzy spells.

Specific phobia

Unlike someone with generalized anxiety disorder, a person who has a specific phobia experiences extreme and often irrational fear of a certain situation or object. When exposed to the object or situation they fear, people with specific phobias exhibit signs of intense fear like shaking, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and nausea. Common specific phobias include fear of heights, enclosed spaces, blood, and animals. The fear a person with phobia feels can be so extreme that he or she may disregard safety just to escape the situation.

Social phobia

Alternatively called social anxiety, a person with social phobia may exhibit similar symptoms like those of panic disorder especially in social situations. Shaking, dizziness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations may ensue when a person with social phobia finds his or herself at the center of attention or in the company of many people, regardless whether they are strangers or not.

Determining the type of anxiety disorder a person has is crucial to seeking treatment and recovery.             Techniques and methods that are used to help a person cope with a certain anxiety usually target not only the management of symptoms but coping mechanisms when exposed to triggers. Only after thorough diagnosis can treatment and recovery for anxiety disorders really commence.