Anxiety Disorders

Blog Body_Kristin Ferri Renew MHC Anxiety Disorders.png

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety: The Diagnosis

For the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus on the specifics of the symptoms that would actually be present in a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. There are many people who will self-diagnose as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or even Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder). Though they may be correct in identifying some of the symptoms it may not be enough to say there is an actual diagnosis. On the flip side, many people minimize their symptoms and ignore or remain in the dark about the fact that they actually do in fact have a legitimate diagnosis.

{Disclaimer: This blog post is NOT intended to diagnosis or be used for the purposes of diagnosing anyone. If you feel that you may suffer from an anxiety disorder you need to speak with a professional to discuss your symptoms and figure out a course of treatment.

This also is NOT an exact list or representation of each disorder in its fullest description. It is merely purposed to help bring awareness to these disorders and shed light on those who may experience any of these symptoms to seek further help if needed.}

Side Note: I am NOT a huge believer in labeling people with diagnoses in general. Yes, I am in the mental health field, and yes, absolutely there are legitimate times that people need to be diagnosed because it can be critical for them to get the care that they need to manage their symptoms. However, that being said, I often see people use the diagnosis to their disadvantage such as, it can paralyze them or create a negative self-image because they now label themselves as  “I have _____” or “I am ______” or they use it as an excuse from persevering towards goals or behaving in appropriate ways. Everyone differs in how they perceive mental health diagnosis but the one thing we should all agree on is that it doesn't make you less than because of it. I can really go on a rant about how society paints mental health and skews the public opinion about all things mental health but I won't so I will stop here.

Let’s get back to the various anxiety disorders and the symptoms of each. Under the category of anxiety disorders there are twelve forms, they are:

  • Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia
  • Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia
  • Agoraphobia without history of Panic Disorder
  • Specific Phobia
  • Social Phobia
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Anxiety Disorder due to a medical condition
  • Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

Each of these disorders has specific symptoms and time frames in which need to occur in order for the person to have the diagnosis. In order for a professional to diagnosis someone, they would need to get a good detailed history of symptoms and behaviors of the person. It is not to say that if you identify with some or all of the symptoms that I will be sharing these disorders then you, in fact, have an anxiety disorder. It is VERY important that you as the reader understand this. Everyone at some point in their life can probably say they have experienced anxiety or feelings of depression BUT it does not mean they have an anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder.

A panic attack is a key requirement for Panic Disorder (with or without Agoraphobia). Some common symptoms of a panic attack include:

heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate

  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizzy, light-headed or faint
  • Fear of dying
  • Etc….

Many people report that a panic attack feels like a heart attack and they feel as if they are going to die. It can be an incredibly scary experience. Often times people fear the attack happening again or its consequences. This is the second requirement of Panic disorder.

Agoraphobia is anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing or help is not available in the event of a panic attack happening or panic-like symptoms. Situations are avoided altogether or there is great distress when endured. This type of anxiety is either present or not with Panic disorder, it also can stand alone as a diagnosis without the history of a panic disorder.

Specific Phobia and Social Phobia have very similar symptoms- just the fear differs as to being either feared stimuli or anticipated situation versus a social situation. Some of the symptoms are:

  • A persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonably caused by the presence or anticipation of a
  • [Specif Phobia] specific object or situation (i.e: spiders, mice, snakes, flying in an airplane, acquiring a disease or getting sick, heights, seeing blood; etc) or
  • [Social Phobia] one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or scrutiny by others
  • The person will recognize that this fear is excessive or unreasonable.
  • Exposure to the feared stimuli almost always invokes an immediate anxiety response which may take the form of a panic attack.
  • The phobic situation is avoided or endured with intense anxiety or distress.
  • The phobic avoidance or distress interferes significantly with a person’s normal routine and daily living.

There are 5 types of Specific Phobia:

  • Animal
  • Natural Environment
  • Blood-Injection-Injury
  • Situational
  • Other

Many times Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are the ones tossed around among friends and family members that often gets misused. It is important, just like the rest, that people seek professional help with identifying whether or not they indeed have either of these disorders because it can be very complicated with sorting through the symptoms and time periods in which would be qualified for a positive diagnosis.

Some of the key symptoms of OCD are broken up by obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions:

  • Recurrent or persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced
  • They are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems
  • The person tries to ignore, suppress or neutralize such thoughts, impulses or images with some other thought or action
  • The person recognizes the obsessional thoughts, impulses or images are a product of their own mind

Compulsion:

  • Repetitive behaviors (i.e. hand washing, ordering, checking)
  • Mental acts (i.e. praying, counting, repeating words silently) that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. 

These behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation. (they are not connected in a realistic way or clearly excessive)

The compulsions or obsessions are time-consuming or significantly interfere with a person’s normal routine or daily living. At some point, the person is able to recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.

There are many requirements for the diagnosis of PTSD, many of which will not be described here but the following are some of the key symptoms:

The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which involved actual or threatened death or serious injury or to threat to the physical integrity of self or others and the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

  • The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced**
  • Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma)**
  • Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma)**

**more details of symptoms required and outlined than described here- performed and evaluated with a professional

The last disorder I will summarize for you in this blog is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. GAD is very common and it is important for people to know the symptoms of this because I believe so many times people may not even realize that their “worry” may be something more than “normal” or average and could be helpful for them to seek help with coping and treating this disorder. So the symptoms of GAD are:

  • Excessive anxiety and worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months out a number of events or activities
  • It is difficult to control the worry

Other symptoms include:

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance
  • The anxiety, worry or physical symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in important areas of life (social, work, etc)

I hope that this blog was helpful with providing more information about anxiety disorders. Again it is not a tool to diagnosis yourself or others. If you have any concerns regarding this material and would like to learn more about seeking professional help, please feel free to contact me. I would be more than happy to point you in the right direction. You can also find more information from the resource list I have on my website here. Next time I will be sharing ways you can cope with worry and anxiety and various skills that are helpful when dealing with anxiety.