People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread. They have physical reactions to those objects, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if a person:
- Has an inappropriate response to a situation
- Cannot control the response
- Has an altered way of life due to the anxiety
Anxiety disorders include the following:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. If you have OCD, you have repeated, upsetting thoughts called obsessions. You do the same thing over and over again to try to make the thoughts go away. Those repeated actions are called compulsions. Examples of obsessions are a fear of germs or a fear of being hurt. Compulsions include washing your hands, counting, checking on things or cleaning. Untreated, OCD can take over your life. Researchers think brain circuits may not work properly in people who have OCD. It tends to run in families. The symptoms often begin in children or teens. Treatments that combine medicines and therapy are often effective.
Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden feelings of terror for no reason. You may also feel physical symptoms, such as
- Fast heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Breathing difficulty
Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere and without warning. You may live in fear of another attack and may avoid places where you have had an attack. For some people, fear takes over their lives and they cannot leave their homes.
Panic disorder is more common in women than men. It usually starts when people are young adults. Sometimes it starts when a person is under a lot of stress. Most people get better with treatment. Therapy can show you how to recognize and change your thinking patterns before they lead to panic. Medicines can also help.
A phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights. You may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains but be unable to go above the fifth floor of an office building. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals, and blood. People with phobias try to avoid what they are afraid of. If they cannot, they may experience
- Panic and fear
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- A strong desire to get away
Treatment helps most people with phobias. Options include medicines, therapy or both.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real illness. You can get PTSD after living through or witnessing a traumatic event, such as war, a hurricane, rape, physical abuse, or a bad accident. PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid after the danger is over. It affects your life and the people around you. PTSD can cause problems like
- Flashbacks, or feeling like the event is happening again
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- Feeling alone
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling worried, guilty, or sad
PTSD starts at different times for different people. Signs of PTSD may start soon after a frightening event and then continue. Other people develop new or more severe signs months or even years later. PTSD can happen to anyone, even children.
Medicines can help you feel less afraid and tense. It might take a few weeks for them to work. Talking to a specially trained doctor or counselor also helps many people with PTSD. This is called talk therapy.