How Does Trauma Affect People with Anxiety Disorders?


Anxiety disorders are widespread, diverse, and sometimes difficult to categorize. Some well-known illnesses that are considered anxiety disorders are Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and panic disorder. Phobias are also a type of anxiety-related mental illness.

Anxiety disorders are harmful because people who have them are in a constant state of over-excitement. They feel jumpy, nervous, and stressed out more frequently than healthy people do.

Besides the fact that this is just an unpleasant way to live, it can also have harmful effects on the body. According to WebMD, chronic stress can lead to “headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, and depression.” Dealing with the physical effects can further exacerbate the mental and emotional stress.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma

Most people know that PTSD develops after a traumatic event, like a near-death experience. But how does trauma affect someone who has another anxiety disorder, like OCD? And what happens when a person who already has PTSD is put through another highly stressful ordeal?

Study on Anxiety Following an Earthquake

A study from a group of health specialists explains how people with anxiety disorders fared after a sudden trauma.

The researchers collected data from a sample of people who were being treated for panic disorder or for OCD. Contrary to what one would expect, the participants in the study did not see an increase in symptoms after the earthquake. The people who had panic disorder did not begin to experience more panic attacks. The obsessive-compulsive group did not develop more unusual behaviors or fixations as a result of the natural disaster.

According to the participants, the earthquake “provoked much less fear than triggers for their excessive anxious behaviors.” This means the OCD patients were still more affected by the idea of their obsessions (cleanliness, purity, order), and the panic disorder patients were more disturbed by their usual causes of distress.

One other finding worth noting is that the panic disorder participants did experience an increase in anxiety and in depression in the aftermath of the quake. The researchers speculate that the reason behind this may be because of the tendency of people with panic disorder to over-examine their internal reactions. Asking the panic participants to focus on their reactions and feelings after the traumatic event may have fostered more negative feelings in them. This is because panic disorder causes people to overreact to perceived distress or danger. Overall, it would seem that some anxiety disorders may have more to do with internal states than external factors.

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