Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be useful in certain situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention, this is known as fight or flight. However, what happens when we suffer from an overload of anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are different from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, and often involve excessive fear or anxiety. They are the most common mental disorders and affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. However, once properly diagnosed, they are treatable and there are a wide range of treatments available so that those suffering are able to live happy and productive lives.

According to Psychiatry.org, 'Anxiety refers to anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior.

Fear is an emotional response to an immediate threat and is more associated with a fight or flight reaction – either staying to fight or leaving to escape danger.'

These disorders can cause people into try to avoid situations that trigger or worsen their symptoms and as a result their careers, education and family life can be compromised.

In order for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must:

  • Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate
  • Hinder your ability to function normally

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder.

Here are the 5 major anxiety disorder you need to know and may recognise in yourself or in loved ones.

1. Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder characterised by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. This can include worrying about relationships, finances, health, and career. Often, there is no clear cause for this worrying and often, it can spiral out of control and cause an untold amount of stress.

People with GAD see the world as a dangerous place and do not feel the confidence that they can cope with the unexpected, so they are on hyper-alert. With GAD one wrestles so much with the 'what ifs' and often have fatalistic and intrusive thoughts. If not kept in control, these thoughts can spin out of control to the point where they interfere with school, work, sleep, social fun, etc.

While we all feel anxious from time to time, anxiety caused by GAD is excessive, has a big impact on overall quality of life, and can even cause physical symptoms, such as nausea, tiredness, or sweating.

The best way to overcome GAD is through therapy, where you'll learn how to tune out those "what ifs," and build up confidence so you'll know you can handle any situation that life throws at you. This is not a cure-all and it is a continuous journey but if you remain committed, your quality of life will improve drastically.

2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterised by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them dramatically increases anxiety.

One of the most effective ways to overcome OCD is through exposure and response prevention (ERP). This means you work up a fear ladder of situations that are difficult without using your rituals. This technique helps you to re-learn to restructure your thoughts and test out engaging in life without the rituals that keep you relatively safe.

3. Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterised by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.

When you become conscious of yourself panicking, you end up doing things that can actually bring [on a panic attack, such as] focusing on your heart rate or avoidance behaviour. However, what ends up happening is you start conditioning the anxiety symptoms and this in itself brings on the panic attacks. The more you fear it, the more power the anxiety takes over you.

For this disorder, traditional therapy can come in very handy because talking through your fears, takes the power out of them. Your therapist may prescribe talk therapy as well as medications, and/or breathing techniques which can help you cope instantly in stressful situations.

4. Post-traumatic disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or situation in which you were harmed or felt threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or being at war.

While everyone takes a while to recover after experiencing traumatizing situations, those with PTSD tend to take longer and have more severe side effects. Symptoms must be present for more than one month and may include things like nightmares, intrusive thoughts, re-experiencing the event, hyper-vigilance, and feeling on edge. You might also feel depressed, sad, guilty, or have sleep problems.

In most cases, it's very treatable with a combination of behavioral and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy methods and psychotropic medication. If you think you're suffering from PTSD, don't hesitate to contact a medical professional today because if it's left to fester, it will only get worse.

5. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterised by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. It can be limited to certain situations like the fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others, or speaking to a large group of people.

You might not be able to make eye contact or hold a conversation without experiencing extreme anxiety, such as rapid heart beat, sweating, stomach issues, or in very extreme cases, an out-of-body experiences,

Social anxiety can truly hold you back in life, so it's important to seek treatment once you think there might be an issue. One of the most effective ways to overcome social anxiety is through talk therapy, where a trained professional will help build up your confidence.