Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Five Anxietys (and Specific Phobias) Part 2

Two weeks ago Oriana introduced you to Anxiety disorders, and discussed how you can tell the difference between "normal" anxiety and symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Last week I gave you an introduction to OCD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder/Agoraphobia. Today I want to round out our series on anxiety disorders with some information about Social Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Specific Phobias.

(My main source for these definitions is the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (adaa). For more on each type of anxiety you can click through the title links to the adaa website section on each illness.)

Social Anxiety Disorder is more then just being shy. Like many of the other anxiety disorders we have looked at, it takes feelings we can all relate to, in this case feeling shy or nervous in social settings, and magnifies it to an extreme degree.

According to adaa, "those with social anxiety disorder experience an intense fear of being scrutinized and negatively evaluated by others in social or performance situations. Some literally feel sick from fear in seemingly nonthreatening situations. "

As Oriana talked about in her introductory post, symptoms of anxiety disorders are often physical. This is true of social anxiety disorder. Some common physical symptoms of the fear and anxiety caused by the disorder are blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches. Social anxiety can cause people to isolate themselves, making it difficult to build relationships or friendships. It has also been found to increase the risk of alcohol abuse, particularly in women.

Treatment works for social anxiety disorder. Most people find their symptoms and quality of life greatly improve after seeking treatment. For more information about treatment for social phobia, you can go here.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious, potentially debilitating, consequence of living through a traumatic event. Natural disasters, being a victim of or witness to physical or sexual violence, major accidents, terrorist attacks, the sudden death of a family member, exposure to combat situations, all of these things can trigger PTSD.

When a person is not able to recover from a trauma, and continues to experience feelings of depression, and anxiety for at least one month following a traumatic experience, that is when the label PTSD can be applied. It is important to know, however, that PTSD might not happen right after a trauma. It is sometimes months or years later when symptoms appear. It is also more likely that someone who has been exposed to previous traumas or violence will develop PTSD after subsequent traumas.

Adaa explains that there are 3 main types of symptoms with PTSD:
  • re-living the trauma through flash backs, nightmares, and intrusive and upsetting recollection
  • feeling emotionally numb, and avoiding people, places, or activities that remind them of the event
  • an increase in feelings of agitation, leading to trouble sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and getting easily irritated or angry.
PTSD often co-occurs with depression, substance use, and other anxiety disorders. PTSD can be treated with a combination of talk therapy, cognitive therapy, and medication. The best treatment for PTSD is one that is specific to each individual patient. What works for one person isn't necessarily right for the next. This is something that is true of the other anxiety disorders discussed in these posts, and mental illness in general. It can take some time to discover the right combination of treatments, so don't give up if something doesn't work right away.

PTSD is a common problem in the military, and the incidence levels have been steadily increasing due to the number of troops being involved in combat in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can be difficult to readjust to civilian life, and hard for soldiers to ask for help.

Adaa has some wonderful information specifically for members of the military and military families. They offer facts about PTSD in the military, and tips for soldiers, as well as tips for military families on how to recognize and confront the disorder.

Everyone feels fear sometimes. I personally get pretty uncomfortable around needles. But generally we are able to manage our fear and go about our lives without much disruption or incident. When these fears become extreme and unmanageable, that is when they cross over into becoming a phobia.

When someone has a specific phobia - a fear of a certain object, situation, or place - it causes a strong, irrational fear reaction. Someone with a specific phobia will work hard to avoid the thing they fear. They often feel they have no control over their fear, regardless of how irrational they know it to be, and can experience extreme anxiety even thinking about the thing they are afraid of. Phobias commonly focus on animals, insects, heights, thunder, driving, public transportation, flying, dental or medical procedures, and elevators.

Phobias can develop in childhood, but it is actually more common for them to develop later in adolescence and young adulthood. They can also develop very quickly. Luckily Exposure Response Prevention therapy (a process where you are gradually exposed to the thing you fear in order to desensitize you to it) can be highly effective in treating specific phobias.

The through line of all these illnesses is that they are very treatable, and that when left untreated they can lead to diminished quality of life. If you or someone you know may be living with an anxiety disorder I encourage you to seek information, treatment, and support. It can make a world of difference. As one of our story sharers put it, after seeking treatment and support for her social anxiety, she was able to recapture the feeling that "life, being alive, is a joy."

For more information about any of the anxiety disorders we have mentioned, please visit the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. They have wonderful information about symptoms, research, treatment options, and other community and support resources. They also offer free online screening tests for each type of disorder, and downloadable information. You can also visit OCD Chicago for great information and resources for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


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