In the previous post I described the commencement of panic attacks and a mild agoraphobia. Panic and phobias are only some of the anxiety disorders that someone may be suffering from. There is a list of disorders that may be, in fact, comorbid with each other. This means that someone may suffer from more than one of these or that one disorder may be replaced by another later in life. In today’s post I would like to describe the different types of disorders and their symptoms. Sometimes putting a label in an existing problem may help you find a solution.
• Generalised Anxiety Disorder. The main characteristic is excessive worry about everything (job, relationship, health, the neighbour’s dog… everyting). There is a continuous feeling of being on edge. The result of this restlessness is fatigue, insomnia, lack of concentration and physical symptoms, such as trembling, sciatica or muscle pains.
• Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As implied by the title the main characteristics are obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. The thoughts are recurrent, insistent and cannot be suppressed; so, they cause anxiety. In order to cope with these thoughts, you may develop ritualized behaviours, e.g. cleaning, washing, counting, checking or collecting repeatedly. Do you remember Jack Nicholson in As Good As it Gets? This is a typical person who suffers from OCD. Common fears are contamination, making mistakes, causing harm, asymmetry, doubt.
• Panic Disorder. Panic attacks come without warning (sometimes while the person is asleep) and they are characterized by extreme terror. The symptoms are physical and, thus, intensify the fear of death: trembling, dizziness, inability to breath, palpitations, hot flushes alternating with cold bouts, diarrhea, chest pains. They last 20-30 minutes until the serotonin is replenished but, to my experience, it may take a couple of days to recover fully from the ordeal. If panic attacks happen often and for prolonged periods of time, sometimes the person develops a “fear of fear” and this way she/he is caught in a vicious circle.
• Phobias. The panic disorder may or may not be accompanied by agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces (or closed spaces) from where a quick escape seems impossible. Such places may be a football stadium, an underground train, a concert hall, the shopping mall, etc. The fear is so intense that it may lead to a panic attack. If it happens often the person eventually stops going out of the house, where she/he feels safe. On the other hand, social phobia refers to the avoidance of social situations, e.g. going out for a drink with friends or speaking in public. These people suffer from the fear of embarrassment or humiliation. Other types of phobias include fears of heights, animals, bugs, closed spaces, blood, flying, water, needles, or anything… Bear in mind that all types of phobias are not based on logic. They are an intense mental and physical reaction to a danger that does not really exist.
• Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are of two types: 1) Acute and 2) Post-traumatic. They occur after the person experienced a highly stressful situation, such as a car crash, the violent death of a beloved one, rape or any other type of violence. The main characteristics are sleep disturbances in the form of nightmares or insomnia, stress and disturbing flashbacks. This disorder is common among soldiers.
The above categories are clearly distinguished according to the symptoms and their development. All of them, though, share some common characteristics: sleep disturbances, extreme stress, fear and physical problems. Facing them and eventually solving the problem is possible but it takes a lot of work and commitment.