Exploring Different Types of Anxiety Disorders and the Need for Treatment
Different types of anxiety disorders manifest in different ways, but all can cause deep distress and interfere with normal function. By understanding the nature of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, you can identify which type of illness you are struggling with. But regardless of the specifics of your illness, recovery requires professional treatment. If outpatient therapies have not worked for you, it could be time to seek residential care.
Anxiety disorders are a family of mental illnesses characterized by overwhelming fear and worry that cause deep psychological pain and loss of ordinary function. However, not all manifestations of anxiety are alike. By learning more about the different types of anxiety disorders, you can come to better understand the nature of your own distress and learn how to begin the process of healing.
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Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Last year, Sarah Fader posted a message to her 16,000 Twitter followers while awaiting a text from a friend: “I don’t hear from my friend for a day—my thought, they don’t want to be my friend anymore #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike.” Fader, 37, has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and her tweet quickly garnered the attention of not only her followers, but the media. In fewer than 140 characters, she gave voice to what millions of people experience every day.
Having GAD isn’t simply being a worrywart—it’s a debilitating medical condition that can cause significant emotional distress and severely impair your ability to function. People with GAD feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety that is not necessarily connected to any one experience or object. Instead, the anxiety is pervasive, attaching itself to a variety of situations and threading itself through virtually all aspects of your life. As the Help Guide says, “If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities, or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from GAD.” This can result in not only in psychological suffering, but may also manifest in physical symptoms like gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, insomnia, and restlessness that interfere with everyday life and could have long-term health effects.
“I thought I was dying,” Daniel says about his first panic attack. “My heart was racing, my chest hurt, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I believed I was having a heart attack.” Daniel’s experience with panic isn’t unusual. According to doctors at the Montreal Heart Institute, “a quarter of 441 patients who came to the emergency room because of chest pains were, in fact, suffering from panic disorder, not a heart ailment.” However, not all panic attacks are alike; panic can manifest in a variety of ways both emotionally and physiologically.
People with panic disorder have “recurrent unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear” that may be accompanied by a host of physical symptoms, including heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, sweating, and trembling or shaking. These feelings may be triggered by specific stimuli or have no apparent cause. In either case, they can be frightening and debilitating phenomena that impede normal function and keep you from being able to enjoy life.
Social Anxiety Disorder
I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m going to get anxious and embarrass myself. I don’t think people like me. What if I offend someone? These are thoughts that virtually everyone has from time to time. But for people with social anxiety disorder, they come to shape your social interactions in a way that is deeply damaging to your inner self and your ability to function in the world.
People with social anxiety disorder experience extreme anxiety in social situations. While for some people this manifests in all social situations, for others it only arises in certain kinds of interactions, such as public speaking or public performance, meeting new people, or talking on the phone. It may also be caused by specific activities such as eating or drinking in front of someone, filling out a form in front of others, or ordering food at a restaurant. The profound feelings of anxiety caused by these situations are often paired with physical symptoms like shaking, blushing, dry mouth, lightheadedness, and stomach upset. As a result, you are likely to avoid any scenario in which your anxiety may arise, spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating over past social interactions, and can even become anxious about becoming anxious. This may severely limit your ability to participate in ordinary social and professional activities and forge meaningful connections with other people.
Julia’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) started early. “I used to wash my hands 30 times a day starting at the age of 10,” she says. “I couldn’t stop and it went on for years. The idea of germs was so repugnant to me that I made it my job to avoid them at all costs. At the time, others thought I was just a strange kid, but it was more than that. It was a constant cycle of anxiety and attempting to relieve that anxiety through dysfunctional means.”
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by “uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts” (obsessions) and “repetitive ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform” (compulsions). Obsessions often involve thoughts of doubt, fear of harming yourself or others, fear of contamination or a need for symmetry. Compulsions typically correspond to an obsession, acting as a disordered coping mechanism for the intrusive thoughts. For example, someone who lives with severe anxiety that they left the stove on or the water running may check the house multiple times before leaving while someone who is obsessed with symmetry may arrange their clothes so that they are all perfectly aligned and sorted by color. Some people, however, suffer only from compulsions or obsessions, but not both.
While OCD has now entered the pop culture lexicon and gained increased awareness, many erroneously regard it as a benign quirk rather than the disabling illness it truly is. The symptomatology of OCD can significantly disrupt your ability to function in a healthy way is deeply painful psychologically.
The Need for Professional Treatment
While the specifics of each form of anxiety differ, the current that runs throughout the different types of anxiety disorders is profound distress. For many, anxiety becomes the thing around which you build your life, fitting yourself into those narrow spaces in which you feel comfortable. This can be extraordinarily limiting, isolating, and emotionally harrowing. Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders feel a great sense of shame regarding their illness and may be reluctant to seek out care. But healing from these afflictions requires professional treatment.
Today there are more anxiety treatment options available than ever before. From pharmacological therapies such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other talk-based modalities, modern medicine offers a range of paths toward healing. But if you have tried these treatments on an outpatient basis and have not found relief from your anxiety, it could be time to consider residential treatment.
Seeking Residential Anxiety Disorder Treatment
In a residential treatment program, you will be able to fully devote yourself to the process of recovery in a warm environment. With the guidance of experienced clinicians and compassionate peers, you can begin to more fully understand your anxiety and develop concrete skills to cope with your overwhelming emotions via a variety of evidence-based therapeutic modalities. Through an array of evidence-based therapeutic modalities and holistic therapies such as yoga, acupuncture, and massage, you are able to deeply investigate the roots of your illness, including any related trauma, and the impact anxiety has had on your life. Simultaneously, you can learn to identify your unique triggers and develop effective coping strategies to gain control over your anxiety, emotionally and physically.
While the treatment process itself may evoke fears in many who struggle with different types of anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety, the right treatment environment will be one in which you feel heard, understood, and supported. You will likely prefer small treatment programs for this reason; these programs foster an intimate, welcoming milieu in which you can quickly acclimate yourself and begin to feel confident in your participation. The clinicians and peers you encounter will not sit in judgment of you, but will be your partners in removing the obstacles standing in the way of your recovery and opening up the door to a life without debilitating fear, worry, and shame. They will be by your side as you face the challenges that lie ahead and allow you to practice newfound skills in a safe and supportive milieu. In doing so, you will be able to carve out a new path for yourself, one that leads to lasting tranquility of mind, body, and spirit.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs, and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.
Image Source: Unsplash user Eli DeFaria