Anxiety takes many forms. Sometimes, it’s a normal and healthy emotion. For example, if you feel your heart rate pick up and get a bit shaky after a close call in heavy traffic, that’s just adrenaline flooding your body and getting you prepared to deal with the ramifications of a narrowly avoided accident. If you have sweaty palms and a tremble in your voice when getting ready for a job interview, that’s also normal and helps you to be on your A-game. Sometimes, however, anxiety begins to take on a life of its own, striking at inappropriate times. If your teenager is experiencing symptoms of anxiety that seem to come on out of the blue or isn’t able to be calmed down shortly after a stressful experience, he or she might be dealing with one of the several different types of anxiety disorders. Read on to find out more about these common anxiety disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Unlike common, healthy anxiety that dissipates once a crisis is over, anxiety caused by general anxiety disorder (GAD) lingers and flares up at random times. Someone with GAD has a hard time controlling their worry. If you are worrying about various things which might or might not happen to the point that it affects your daily life, you might have GAD.
A person with GAD might worry excessively about money, health, or some other similar topic. They might have catastrophic thinking. For example, if your spouse is not answering his or her telephone and is late, your mind might immediately go to imagining them in a severe car accident or having had a heart attack, rather than assume they are driving or in a place where the cell signal is poor.
While GAD can strike at any time, it generally develops during the teen years through middle age. It can range from mild to severe; some people with GAD live normal lives and others are nearly paralyzed by their fears.
Therapy and medications can often help when it comes to treating GAD.
Have you ever had a panic attack? Also called an anxiety attack, this is a scary (but physically harmless) condition characterized by the following symptoms:
- racing heart
- shortness of breath
- chest pains
- excessive sweating
- feeling a sense of doom
It could happen anywhere and for any reason or no reason at all. The symptoms generally pass in minutes, but they could leave you feeling exhausted and out of sorts for the rest of the day.
People who experience panic attacks might suffer from panic disorder. In addition to the attacks, which often cause people to go to the emergency room because they think they’re having a heart attack, someone who has had one or more panic attacks also often has the fear that they’ll have another. This fear can lead to them not wanting to leave the perceived safety of their home. This is a condition called agoraphobia. Getting the panic attacks under control with medications and therapy can, in time, lead to curing the agoraphobia.
Many people think that obsessive-compulsive disorder, often called OCD, is about washing your hands too frequently. While some people do have this manifestation of the condition, it’s actually characterized by obsessive thoughts leading to compulsive behavior that temporarily suppresses the disturbing thoughts.
In the case of someone washing their hands frequently, the hand-washing is the compulsion. The obsession might be that they have germs on their hands that could make their families sick and die. Another obsessive thought might be that an unlocked door could let in a violent intruder; the compulsion might be to check the door a dozen or a hundred times.
Fear is a normal part of life. It is what stops us from running out in front of a car or confronting a wild animal. When people develop specific, often severe fears, however, it can turn into a phobia. Some common types of phobias include:
- fear of flying
- fear of enclosed spaces
- fear of spiders
Many times, a phobia centers around something that poses little to no threat.
Phobias are more severe than fears. If you get nervous before a flight and you feel a bit out-of-sorts until you are safely back on the ground, you probably have a fear. If, however, the thought of flying gives you a panic attack and you’d rather miss a family event than get on a plane, you might be dealing with a phobia.
Some ways to deal with phobias include desensitization therapy and medications.
Social anxiety is a condition that leads to a person feeling very nervous about various social interactions. A teen with social anxiety, for example, might do the following:
- refuse to go out with friends
- not talk to other teens at school because they have the perception that others are judging them
- feel awkward and like they aren’t able to fit in, even if others don’t necessarily see them that way
If you are unable to converse well with coworkers or classmates and you are always worried that someone will think you’re unintelligent or weird, you might have social anxiety. The condition can range from mild to severe. For example, some people with social anxiety find it difficult to go to school or to hold down a job. Others would take a zero on an assignment rather than stand up in front of the class to give a presentation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can often help with social anxiety disorder.
Help is Available for Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety can be a normal part of life, but in some cases, it can become crippling. If you are concerned that you or your child are suffering from one of these anxiety disorders, help is available. First, consult with your physician to rule out physical disorders that could be causing your symptoms. Then seek counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other types of mental health care can ease symptoms and make it easier for you to cope with your condition. Sometimes, medications are used on a short- or long-term basis. Anxiety disorders can be managed and you can live a happy, successful life.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.