Discussing Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety manifests itself in different ways, and knowing the differences is crucial to understanding it | Source: We Heart It

IMSA students are no strangers to anxiety, navigating both high school and a pandemic at the same time. Anxiety is defined as a strong emotion that includes tension, worried and intrusive thoughts, and physical symptoms. Those who experience anxiety typically report a variety of symptoms, based on genetic or environmental factors. Anxiety is a natural human emotion, so it’s normal to feel anxious from time-to-time. However, when one experiences symptoms in an excessive or overwhelming manner, an anxiety disorder can occur. About 31.1% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetimes.

According to a survey of residential schools in the National Consortium of Secondary Stem Schools (NCSSS), the most prevalent mental health diagnosis among respondents is an anxiety disorder. Data drawn from the 2021 Challenge Success indicates that more than 40% of IMSA respondents reported mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, to be a major source of stress in their lives. The following article presents an overview of a few common anxiety disorders, symptoms, and coping mechanisms. 


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)


GAD is the most broad anxiety disorder. Those who experience GAD excessively worry about a variety of topics, including social life, health, education/work, etc. Commonly, GAD leads to rumination and creates significant overthinking that can be hard to stop. This type of worrying can interfere with one’s daily life, making it difficult to interact with others or be productive. 


  • Extreme tension or worry
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Muscle tension / physical discomfort
  • Increased irritability
  • Insomnia 


Social Anxiety Disorder 


This type of anxiety is largely focused on anxiety related to social situations or relationships. Those with social anxiety, or social phobia, have intense fear of judgment or embarrassment from their actions. Many will avoid various social situations or places that may trigger anxiety. Social anxiety disorders typically start between the ages of 11 to 19 and are most prevalent within teenagers. 


  • Social avoidance
  • Overthinking others’ actions
  • Blushing, sweating, or shaking in social situations
  • Fear of judgment 
  • Fear of accidentally offending someone 


Panic Disorder


Panic disorder leads to recurrent panic attacks, usually unexpected. These attacks only last a few minutes, but can be frightening and traumatic for those experiencing them. A typical panic attack will last less than 20 minutes. Many who have a panic disorder will actively try to avoid places or situations that might stimulate an attack. 


During a panic attack, one may experience 

  • Heart palpitations or an increased heart rate
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feeling of impending death or injury
  • Difficulty breathing 


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)


Those with OCD typically have obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts that are difficult to control. The topic of these thoughts might differ between individuals, but they include germs, organization, feelings of aggression towards others, or other topics. Many individuals with compulsions may have a strong desire to repeat actions. Many who struggle with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. 


  • Constant checking
  • Fear of contamination
  • Organization and symmetry 
  • Intrusive thoughts


Other anxiety disorders include specific phobias, agoraphobia, separation anxiety,and post-traumatic stress disorder. Read about more disorders at: the National Institute of Mental Health or Healthline


Treating Anxiety

Experiencing anxiety is not easy, whether one has a normal amount of anxiety or a disorder. Everyone experiences and processes intense worry in different ways. Here are a few ways to manage any amount of anxiety: 

  • Talk to a therapist
    • If you cannot afford or don’t want professional help, talk to the school counselors at IMSA. Reach out to free therapy sites, outlined here
  • Remember that you aren’t alone
    • Most, if not all, people will experience anxiety in their lives. Speak to a trusted friend, family member, RC, or faculty member about your experiences. Ask them to just listen or give advice. 
  • Relaxation techniques
    • Practice deep breathing, meditation, or purchase an anxiety toy
  • Practice a healthy lifestyle
    • Drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet, exercise daily, increase your sleep, minimize caffeine
  • Try a hobby
    • Engaging in hobbies outside of school or extracurricular activities can help reduce intrusive thoughts. Try learning a new instrument, practicing art, listening to music, watching movies/TV, or socializing with friends.

About the Author

Elizabeth Alcala
Elizabeth, or Liz, Alcala was the 2021-2022 Co-Editor-in-Chief. She lived in 06 all three years and 06B her last year. Liz was also involved with Exodus and Active Minds and is a proud guitar player and film buff. She plans to study Chemistry at Northwestern University onwards.

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