Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric conditions that people suffer.
In Generalized Anxiety Disorder people worry about a number of different things, often and for a prolonged period.
In Panic Disorder people are distressed by the rapid onset of severe anxiety which produces physical symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain, sweating and a sense of dread. They may fear having panic attacks in public, leading to agoraphobia. Panic attacks may occur as part of other conditions and though not as severe as in Panic Disorder, they lead to significant distress.
In Social Phobia, individuals fear being in public, especially among people that they don’t know. They fear being judged by others and are very self conscious. This can lead to avoidance behavior which affects not only their social life, but can also affect significant relationships, study and work.
In Obsessive Compulsive Disorder people have obsessional thoughts which are irrational and these lead on to compulsive actions as a way of dealing with the predominant thoughts. The actions are many and varied and can include hand washing, lock and door checking and mental exercises, such as counting rituals.
There are also Specific Phobias that people have, and at times this can cause significant distress.
In Somatoform Disorders, people experience physical symptoms instead of actual feelings of anxiety. Often people will present having experienced physical symptoms for many years with no physical cause found. They will often have had multiple medical investigations including blood tests, ultrasounds, X Rays, CT Scans, MRI studies and a range of other tests. They will sometimes have seen multiple general practitioners and specialists looking for “the answer” which will explain everything. Sometimes they resort to tests which are only available in other countries or consult practitioners who are considered “not mainstream” within their own profession. They may become angry and have the perception that people are saying “it’s all in your head.” They feel they are being dismissed. Somatoform Disorders cause significant distress and impairment and require the appropriate psychiatric treatment. They often lead to people being over-investigated. This may involve multiple invasive procedures or exposure to radiation. Some patients spend very large sums of money over many years seeking “a diagnosis” which is physical in nature. It can be very hard for them to accept that there may not be a physical cause, but this is the first stage in the process which will eventually lead to appropriate treatment.
One of the significant co-morbid conditions with anxiety disorders is substance abuse. Anxious people sometimes use alcohol and/or illicit drugs to “self-medicate.” They may also seek avoidance of the feelings of anxiety through gambling or sexual acting-out. Obviously these ways of dealing with intolerable feelings are maladaptive and frequently cause more problems than they solve. It is therefore imperative that the person learn sophisticated evidence-based ways of controlling their anxiety, rather than relying on destructive behaviours.