Panic attacks, phobias and OCD
It’s normal to feel anxious about things like your dwindling finances, whether you should ask out the girl or guy you like and your upcoming final exams. However, it’s not normal for any of these things to cause extreme panic, worry or crippling fear. If excessive worry is preventing you from living a normal life, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in America. It’s estimated that somewhere in the range of 7 to10 percent of adults suffer from one, with varying degrees of severity.
Because anxiety disorders typically manifest themselves in young adulthood, many college students are affected. In the past five years, there’s been a big increase in the number of college students who report having some form of an anxiety disorder.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, each with its own set of symptoms. They include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is the most common anxiety disorder among college students. The best estimate is that 5 percent of students are affected. Symptoms are present on almost a daily basis. Worry, restlessness, irritability, aches and pains, and difficulty concentrating and sleeping are typical. If you suffer from GAD, there’s a good chance you live with an irrational fear that something bad is about to happen to you.
- Panic disorder. This disorder is characterized by its recurrent and unexpected episodes of intense anxiety, often called panic attacks. During such an episode, you may experience physiological symptoms including loss of breath, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, sweating and chills. You may feel out of control or disassociated from reality. Fear of these episodes may cause you to avoid going out in public.
- Phobias. A phobia is defined as any exaggerated and unrealistic fear of an object or situation. Common phobias include spiders, enclosed spaces and thunderstorms. It’s estimated that 5 to 10 percent of the population suffers from a phobia, but many are so specific (e.g. fear of snakes) that they rarely affect day-to-day life.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you suffer from OCD, you likely experience persistent thoughts and feelings that cause you great distress. These obsessions cause you to feel that you need to perform a specific action to minimize your anxiety. This can lead to compulsive behaviors like excessively washing your hands and constantly checking to see that an electrical appliance has been turned off. The symptoms of OCD can impair daily life.
- Social anxiety disorder. This disorder has to do with the fear of being judged in performance situations and even day-to-day social situations. If you suffer from this disorder, you’ll probably try to avoid these situations and the perceived humiliation they cause. In the case of a mandatory public presentation, such as is required in many college seminar courses, you may feel so anxious that you get nauseous or even faint.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This anxiety disorder usually arises in the aftermath of a traumatic event, such as an accident or a sexual assault. If you experience extreme distress at any reminder of the traumatic event, you may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is only diagnosed when such feelings persist for more than a month after the traumatic event and have a significant negative impact on your ability to function normally.
Treating Anxiety Disorders
Because anxiety is psychological and has no clear physical cause, it’s harder to treat than some other mental illnesses. However, most anxiety disorders can be treated with psychotherapy and medication, either alone or in combination. While the disorder itself may never be cured, symptoms can be alleviated.
It’s important to seek treatment for an anxiety disorder at a young age in order to prevent it from becoming a chronic problem that has a significant negative impact on your life.