Anxiety and Related Disorders
Anxiety disorders are each characterized by highly distressing anxiety symptoms, such as fear, nervousness, or worry. These symptoms are so strong that they interfere with one’s life, activities, or relationships and lead a person to avoid the things or situations that generate anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy has a tremendous amount of research evidence to support its use as an effective treatment for each of the anxiety disorders.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Those with social anxiety disorder are extremely anxious about being around people or being in performance situations. These individuals may fear negative evaluations or that their anxiety may be visible to others. Social anxiety disorder may lead someone to avoid socializing, to turn down employment prospects, or to decline opportunities to speak publicly or lead in the workplace. People with social anxiety may also choose to engage in social or performance situations but only do so if they use alcohol, drugs or a prescribed medication to manage anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
The most prominent feature of GAD is anxiety and worry about several activities or events. People who have GAD worry intensely and frequently. They find their worry is very difficult to manage and makes it difficult to focus on or complete other responsibilities in life.
People with panic disorder experience recurrent panic attacks that are unexpected or difficult to predict. Panic often results in intense distress and may ultimately lead a person to visit a hospital emergency room or to avoid certain places or situations that seem to trigger panic.
Individuals with agoraphobia experience a great deal of fear in, and avoid, situations in which it would be difficult to escape from in the event they become anxious or do something embarrassing. Examples include being in a crowd, being away from home alone, and using public transportation.
The defining feature of a specific phobia is that the fear and anxiety are circumscribed to a particular object or situation. There are many, many types of specific phobias. Common examples include intense fear of enclosed spaces (i.e., claustrophobia), fear of heights, or fear of a particular animal, such as spiders or dogs. A phobia may focus on an aspect of health care, including when a person is afraid of blood, needles, or medical procedures or providers, such as a dentist. In these cases, a person may not be receiving suggested or necessary health care.
Illness Anxiety Disorder (Health Anxiety)
While illness anxiety disorder is actually included as a “Somatic Symptom and Related Disorder” in the most recent edition of the DSM (DSM-5; the catalog of disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association), this problem was historically considered an anxiety disorder. Individuals with illness anxiety disorder experience an excessive fear of having or developing a serious illness or health problem. The person likely experiences a great deal of distress to changes in health status and this anxiety may lead a person to perform many health-related behaviors (checking themselves for illness, etc.). They may also consume a great deal of health-related information or just the opposite – the individual may avoid health-related information or situations altogether.