happens to the best of us: you’re lying in bed, trying to get some
sleep, when your mind starts racing. Am I prepared for tomorrow’s
work presentation? Did the kids finish their homework? Will I be able
to pay all my bills? What if I lose my job? What if my parents fall
ill? What if I do?
In a world that
seemingly never sleeps, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of worry.
After all, we’re only human. But if you find yourself tossing and
turning more often than not, or experience the same rash of fears
throughout the daytime, it may be more than just a case of rattled
nerves. It might be anxiety.
disorders are the most common mental illness facing Americans today,
affecting more than 40 million adults, or roughly 14 percent of the
population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The
most common types of anxiety include generalized anxiety disorder
(GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social
anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In an effort to
better understand each type of anxiety, we went straight to a
nationally credible source — the Anxiety and Depression Association
of America. Signs and symptoms for each are outlined below.
disorder: Individuals who suffer from GAD "expect the worst"
and experience excessive anxiety and worry, even when there isn’t an
apparent reason for concern. Symptoms include fatigue, feeling on
edge, difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping.
compulsive disorder: People with OCD suffer from unwanted and
intrusive thoughts ("Did I lock the door?"), often
compelling them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and
routines (repeatedly checking that the door is locked). They are
typically aware of these irrationalities, but often feel powerless to
Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience out-of-the-blue
panic attacks and who live in fear of recurring attacks. Panic attack
symptoms can feel very scary and may include palpitations, a pounding
heart, sweating, feelings of choking, shortness of breath or a fear of
dying, leading many people with the disorder to visit the ER.
Are you afraid of being judged? More than 15 million adults with
social anxiety disorder have an extreme fear of being scrutinized in
social or performance situations. Often mistaken for
"shyness," symptoms may be so extreme that people avoid
social environments or relationships, making them feel alone,
powerless or ashamed.
stress disorder (PTSD): People who have witnessed or experienced
natural disasters, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, sudden
death of a loved one, war, sexual abuse or other life-threatening
events may suffer from
stress disorder. The disorder can result in severe depression and
anxiety and be accompanied by flashbacks and nightmares, for months or
disorders range in severity and can develop from a complex set of risk
factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life
So how do you
know if you’re experiencing worry or suffering from anxiety? When
worrying starts to get in the way, says Michelle Sasha, an assistant
professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at
the Medical College life,
One of the
biggest distinctions between everyday worrying and an anxiety problem
is how long the fears last. In anxiety disorders, persistent worrying
can last several months — or even years — and is often accompanied
by problems with restlessness, concentration, muscle tension, sleeping
many people tend to brush off these feelings. In fact, despite the
high numbers of people who experience persistent anxiety, only about
one-third actually seek treatment to find relief.
often the case with many emotional struggles, some people feel shame
about the ‘weakness’ associated with anxiety," explains Sasha.
"Sometimes people think ‘I should be able to deal with this,’
or ‘It could be much worse.’ These may be legitimate questions,
but they are harsh and interfere with thoughtful and potentially
productive reflection and growth."
reframing worrying thoughts to gauge whether or not a person is
thinking about a problem clearly or setting unrealistic expectations.
Using a journal to document when certain physical or emotional
symptoms arise may help pinpoint the problem.
For those who
are able to identify the problems on their own, Sasha encourages they
incorporate exercise, meditation and relaxing activities to help
alleviate anxious thoughts. That may not be enough.
(anxiety) symptom is a signal that other things, outside of our
awareness are bothering us — usually things we’d rather not deal
with," says Sasha. "If worry is persistent and cannot be
curbed with these efforts, it may be worth talking to a professional
who can help identify causes and optimal solutions."
may include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy,