Anxiety Disorders, including PTSD

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by RI Editors

This research essay is part of our Peculiar Minds series.

FEARAnxiety Disorders are broadly categorized into five general disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive worry. All of us worry to some degree about issues of family or money or work, but GAD sufferers worry about getting through each day, consistently feeling that things will always go awry. This is a slow-developing syndrome that usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, and may worsen or ease as stresses ebb and flow. Symptoms, beyond pervasive worry, including difficulty relaxing or concentrating, easy startling, insomnia, muscle tiredness, aches, fatigue, difficulty swallowing, trembling/twitching, irritability, profuse sweating, light-headedness, and frequent urination.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by a need to recheck things. Beyond an average sense of forgetfulness that causes us to check that we’ve done things, OCD sufferers feel compelled to repeat certain behaviors, thoughts, or routines, and become increasingly anxious in the process. For many people, obsessions and compulsions begin in the childhood or teen years and continue into adulthood, sometimes waning or increasing in severity. Symptoms include repeated thoughts or images (obsessions) regarding germs, dirt, intruders, violence, sexual acts, or tidiness. Repeated acts (compulsions) are difficult to control.

Panic Disorder is characterized by sudden and repeated attacks of fear. Fears often focus on disaster or losing control and feel to some sufferers like heart attacks. Attacks often begin in late teens and early adulthood, and more women than men suffer them. It takes on a life of its own as fears are compounded by the fear of having attacks in public places, often causing people to avoid places where an attack has previously occurred. Physical symptoms include pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, hot or chill, tingly or numb hands, or chest or stomach pain. This form of anxiety does sometimes run in families, but no one knows why some do or do not develop the disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is sometimes experienced by people who have survived a traumatic event or a friend or family member has. Usually symptoms begin 3-6 months after the event, but for many they do not arise for years. Triggers, or stimuli that are interpreted by the sufferer as similar to the original trauma, cause subconscious fight-or-flight responses due to earlier damage to the adrenal response. While veterans are the most recognizable sufferers, PTSD can arise from physical and sexual assault, abuse, disasters, accidents, deaths of family members, and other serious incidents. Symptoms fall into three main groups: re-experience, avoidance, and hyperarousal. Re-experience includes flashbacks, nightmares, frightening thoughts; avoidance includes places or events, experiencing numbness, guilt or worry, and blocking the initial event; and hyperarousal includes excessive startling, difficulty sleeping, and being on edge. Dr. Barbara Rothbaum discusses PTSD on PBS’s This Emotional Life.

Children who experience PTSD may have slightly different symptoms, including bedwetting (after learning toileting), forgetting how or being unable to talk, acting out the event, or being unusually clingy. Older children may develop symptoms similar to adults, or become disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive. Excessive guilt for not preventing incidents or thoughts of revenge may cling to them.

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by a profound fear of being judged by others or being publicly embarrassed, and prevents sufferers from doing otherwise simple things in public (like signing a check or answering a question). SAD usually begins in childhood. Sufferers often avoid public places, worry for extended periods of time about upcoming events, have a difficult time making and keeping friends, blush or sweat or tremble in public, and may feel nauseous or sick when around other people. Social phobias sometimes run in families, but it’s hard to predict who will suffer the disorder.

The key in diagnosis for each of these fear/anxiety-related disorders is usually length of time suffered and number of episodes experienced. A variety of therapies are available. For more information about any of these conditions, you may wish to visit the Anxiety Disorders section at the National Institute of Mental Health page.

Despite widespread media coverage, people with anxiety disorders are no more likely than the general population to be violent.


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3 Responses to Anxiety Disorders, including PTSD

  1. Heather Jo Anderson says:

    Probably the worst case of PTSD I ever experienced was about a week after I married my husband. We had returned from our honeymoon and it was our first night together in our own bed. I was asleep and suddenly my husband rolled over and his hand touched my breast. Barely. He had been fast asleep. I bolted out of bed and ran down the hall to the bathroom. I locked myself in, grabbed a can of cleanser, and a scrub brush, and proceeded to scrub all my skin off, retching the entire time. I felt violated and wanted to wash away every horrible thing that had ever been done to me. As I crouched in the tub like a wounded animal, I started thinking of my childhood. My stepfather would come in my room at night and my sweet husband’s touch had triggered such awful memories. I had been through counseling the year between my return from my mission and the time I got married, but had felt like I was well enough when I quit right before the big day. We couldn’t afford therapy anyway, so it wasn’t really an option, it had to go. Such a huge mistake. I haven’t been back in therapy since, but can see the strain it has had on my family. I’m working my way up to it again and am almost there. Various other experiences, mostly related to the safety of not just my own children, but any children, can bring about a PTSD episode. I never know when it’s going to hit me and it makes me feel disabled. I often reflect on how frightened I am about what my next reaction will be? I know that I could hurt someone if the trigger was pulled at a time when I am fully loaded. There is so much anger still in me from the powerlessness that I felt as a child and a young woman, not able to defend myself or those around me. Lately I feel like I am hanging on by a thread. There are only a few things holding me together. The first is my calm, quietly strong, husband, whose example brings me low. I don’t compare to my husband when it comes to his gentleness, with me, with our children, with other peoples children. It’s why I married him. I needed a calm to my hurricane. The second are various memories of times when I have felt the spirit. Most recently is a beautiful, perfect, sacrament meeting in our ward. The love we all feel for each other was tangible that day. That memory has strengthened me greatly during the darkness which has come to stay for a while. The third is my knowledge that I am Heather Jo. I am a daughter of heavenly parents, who love me. I had a moment years ago, at he beginning of the turmoil which was to be my childhood, when I called out for my father in heaven for help, and received nothing. How then can I know that I am loved by him? Because in the quiet afterwards, I was able to reflect. I knew that Satan was behind my experiences. I knew that he had done a great job in convincing me that I was alone. That no one cared for me… and I defied Satan. I chose to still believe in my Heavenly Father. Gradually, through my faith, I received the strength I needed to get out of there and because I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, I was able to do so. No matter what happens to me in this world I chose to come to, I believe with some knowledge of what would happen, this is my rock upon which I choose to stand. Right now, my rock is shadowed in darkness, but soon, there will be light. I am ready for it.

    • Bonnie says:

      Thanks for telling your story Heather, and for being the amazingly gentle person you are. As you defend your children with their special needs, and care for others, you exemplify to all of us that God is stronger than Satan, that good will triumph over evil. Love to you in your journey. And thanks for the dark chocolate frogs. You’re the best.

  2. Paul says:

    GAD and OCD are part of our family soup. Understanding how these disorders work is meaningful to the sufferer but also to other family members who can better show compassion (instead of frustration) when it is needed most.

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