Who hasn't felt sweaty palms before an important event-a big date or a career-determining test, for example? Nervousness is normal in these situations, and nothing to be concerned about. But for the more than 40 million people suffering from an anxiety disorder, fear and worry are constant companions and may be debilitating. There are five different types of anxiety disorder that therapists can pinpoint:

  • Panic disorder. People with panic disorder suffer from panic attacks, which cause a laundry list of symptoms eerily similar to cardiac symptoms: heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and stomach pain.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD sufferers have repeated, uncontrollable thoughts and rituals, such as constant handwashing or repeated checking to see if the oven is turned off or the door is locked.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. This arises after someone experiences a trauma such as a physical attack or natural disaster. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anger, and being easily startled.
  • Phobia. A phobia is a paralyzing and irrational fear of something innocuous, such as insects or water or the outdoors. People with phobias will go to extreme lengths to avoid the situations that scare them, such as taking a train or bus cross-country in order to avoid flying, or never leaving the house in order to avoid open spaces.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. GAD is characterized by chronic, constant worry about everyday things and life situations. GAD sufferers always expect bad things to happen and fret accordingly, sometimes suffering from physical symptoms such as stomachache, headache, or fatigue. GAD is diagnosed when a person has these feelings for at least six months.

What's the treatment for anxiety?

As with other mental disorders, medications, including antidepressants, are often effective. Therapy also works well. A popular form of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps patients understand their thinking patterns in order to change their reactions. Unfortunately, anxiety disorders often accompany other problems such as substance abuse, which may require its own treatment.

Many experts believe that stress management techniques are very effective at helping anxiety-prone people get some relief. Yoga, breathing exercises, and other calming therapies can go a long way toward quieting the worrying voices in an anxiety sufferer's head. Aerobic exercise also helps. What to avoid? Agitating substances such as caffeine, some illegal drugs, and even over-the-counter cold medications can all aggravate anxious impulses.