Everyone feels anxious—worried, tense, nervous—at times. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it can interfere with your ability to deal with even the simplest tasks. How can you tell if your anxiety has gone over the top of what’s normal? Consider:
Intense, frequent, long-lasting or very troubling anxiety indicates a condition that has crossed the line from everyday anxiety into an anxiety disorder. But even if it has, it’s important to know that there is help available. You don’t have to live with anxiety that is very painful and sometimes incapacitating
What are the signs of an anxiety disorder? This list is not complete, but here are common symptoms:
Anxiety disorders can take various forms, including the following. If you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions, seek help from the counseling center at your college or talk to a trusted faculty or family member.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Do you worry excessively about everyday problems or the future? Do you feel that you just can’t turn your mind off, and there’s a constant feeling that something bad might happen? Does the worrying get so bad that it keeps you from falling asleep at night, distracts you during class or affects your concentration while trying to study? These may be symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). People with GAD usually recognize that their response to a certain situation may be exaggerated or that the worrying is affecting them, but they just can’t stop it.
Social Anxiety Disorder Do you have an intense fear of social situations or performing publicly—so intense that you avoid going to parties, performing in recitals, speaking in class or even hanging out at the café? You may be suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder. People with this ailment may spend most of their time alone because they are too uncomfortable to chat or even make eye contact with people, although they can usually interact comfortably with their families and a few close friends. Some anxiety in social and performance situations is normal, but Social Anxiety Disorder can hold people back in life and cause much suffering.
Phobias If you have excessive, unreasonable, long-lasting fears of swimming, heights, bridges, dogs, injections and other objects or situations, you may have a phobia. People with phobias usually try to avoid the things or situations they’re afraid of, and this often disrupts their daily lives.
Panic Disorder Have you ever felt a sudden rush of fear that seemed like it came out of nowhere—resulting in an intense need to get out of the situation? It may have been a panic attack, an unexpected blast of terror that produces very real, and very unpleasant, physical symptoms. Your heart starts racing. You might feel like you’re choking or about to vomit. You get sweaty, shaky, lightheaded or dizzy. People who suffer from panic attacks report feeling like they’re having a heart attack, going crazy or on the verge of fainting. The attack usually lasts about 10 minutes.
A panic attack can, but doesn’t always, lead to Panic Disorder. People who suffer from Panic Disorder become very afraid of having another attack. Usually, they begin to avoid the situation that triggered the attack, such as standing in lines, being in an elevator, sitting in class or other social situations. Sometimes, the worry and avoidance spreads and can affect a large part of a person’s life.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head and just couldn’t make it stop, you know what it’s like to experience obsessive thoughts. Obsessions are persistent, recurrent thoughts or images that occupy a person’s mind. Often people obsess about the possibility of something bad happening to them or someone they care about, or about getting sick. Sometimes obsessions concern things that don’t seem to make much sense, such as needing everything on a desk in precise order.
Compulsions are rituals that a person performs to control the anxiety associated with those obsessions. For example, an obsession about germs in the environment can lead to the compulsion of excessive hand washing. An obsessive thought that a burglar might break in can lead to the compulsion of checking the door locks five times before bed.
OCD generally begins between childhood and early adulthood. Obsessions and rituals can take up a lot of time and interfere with routine activities and social relationships. Most people who suffer from OCD recognize that their thoughts and behavior are irrational, but they are unable to stop the obsessions so the compulsive rituals continue.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects almost seven million people in the United States and may occur at any age. PTSD can happen after a person has been through a traumatic event, such as:
Events that can trigger PTSD include sexual abuse or rape, natural disasters, war or serious accidents. People with PTSD usually have “flashbacks” a few months after the terrifying event—sights, sounds and smells that remind the person of the incident. They often have nightmares about the event, avoid things that remind them of it and experience continued anxiety and fear after the event. Some people may have difficulty expressing their emotions, experience loss of interest, are easily startled, easily “zone out” and become irritable, aggressive or even violent.