What are Anxiety Disorders?


The following information was extracted from the National Institute of Mental Health website.


Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps one deal with a tense situation in the office, study harder for an exam, and keep focused on an important speech. In general, it helps one cope. But when anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling disorder.


People with anxiety disorders feel extremely fearful and unsure. Most people feel anxious about something for a short time now and again, but people with anxiety disorders feel this way most of the time. Their fears and worries make it hard for them to do everyday tasks.


Five major types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder   

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

  • Panic Disorder 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

All of us worry about things like health, money, or family problems at one time or another. But people with GAD are extremely worried about these and many other things, even when there is little or no reason to worry about them. They may be very anxious about just getting through the day. They think things will always go badly. At times, worrying keeps people with GAD from doing everyday tasks.GAD develops slowly. It often starts during the time between childhood and middle age. Symptoms may get better or worse at different times, and often are worse during times of stress.

People with GAD may visit a doctor many times before they find out they have this disorder. They ask their doctors to help them with the signs of GAD, such as headaches or trouble falling asleep, but dont always get the help they need right away. It may take doctors some time to be sure that a person has GAD instead of something else.Common symptoms of GAD:

  • worry very much about everyday things for at least six months, even if there is little or no reason to worry about them;

  • cant control their constant worries;

  • know that they worry much more than they should;

  • cant relax;

  • have a hard time concentrating;

  • are easily startled; and

  • have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

  • common body symptoms are: 

    • feeling tired for no reason

    • headaches

    • muscle tension and aches

    • having a hard time swallowing

    • trembling or twitching

    • being irritable

    • sweating

    • nausea

    • feeling lightheaded

    • feeling out of breath

    • having to go to the bathroom a lot

    • hot flashes


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)



Everyone double-checks things sometimes – for example, checking the stove before leaving the house, to make sure it’s turned off. But people with OCD feel the need to check things over and over, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals of OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life.


The repeated, upsetting thoughts of OCD are called obsessions. To try to control them, people with OCD repeat rituals or behaviors, which are called compulsions. People with OCD can’t control these thoughts and rituals.Examples of obsessions are fear of germs, of being hurt or of hurting others, and troubling religious or sexual thoughts. Examples of compulsions are repeatedly counting things, cleaning things, washing the body or parts of it, or putting things in a certain order, when these actions are not needed, and checking things over and over.


People with OCD have these thoughts and do these rituals for at least an hour on most days, often longer. The reason OCD gets in the way of their lives is that they can’t stop the thoughts or rituals, so they sometimes miss school, work, or meetings with friends, for example.


For many people, OCD starts during childhood or the teen years. Most people are diagnosed at about age 19. Symptoms of OCD may come and go and be better or worse at different times.


Common Symptoms of OCDPeople with OCD:


  • have repeated thoughts or images about many different things, such as fear of germs, dirt, or intruders; violence; hurting loved ones; sexual acts; conflicts with religious beliefs; or being overly neat.

  • do the same rituals over and over such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, counting, keeping unneeded items, or repeating the same steps again and again.

  • have unwanted thoughts and behaviors they can’t control.

  • don’t get pleasure from the behaviors or rituals, but get brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause.

  • spend at least an hour a day on the thoughts and rituals, which cause distress and get in the way of daily life.


Panic Disorder


Panic disorder is a real illness that can be successfully treated. It is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness. During these attacks, people with panic disorder may flush or feel chilled; their hands may tingle or feel numb; and they may experience nausea, chest pain, or smothering sensations. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control.


A fear of one’s own unexplained physical symptoms is also a symptom of panic disorder. People having panic attacks sometimes believe they are having heart attacks, losing their minds, or on the verge of death. They can’t predict when or where an attack will occur, and between episodes many worry intensely and dread the next attack.

Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer. Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults and is twice as common in women as men. Panic attacks often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood, but not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder. Many people have just one attack and never have another. The tendency to develop panic attacks appears to be inherited.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real illness. It is an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death. PTSD can happen to anyone at any age. Children get PTSD too.You dont have to be physically hurt to get PTSD. You can get it after you see other people, such as a friend or family member, get hurt. Living through or seeing something thats upsetting and dangerous can cause PTSD. This can include:


  • Being a victim of or seeing violence

  • The death or serious illness of a loved one

  • War or combat

  • Car accidents and plane crashes

  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires

  • Violent crimes, like a robbery or shooting

Common Symptoms of PTSD Its natural to be afraid when youre in danger. Its natural to be upset when something bad happens to you or someone you know. But if you feel afraid and upset weeks or months later, its time to talk with your doctor. You might have post-traumatic stress disorder.


Symptoms include flashbacks or bad dreams, emotional numbness, intense guilt or worry, angry outbursts, feeling “on edge,” or avoiding thoughts and situations that remind them of the trauma. In PTSD, these symptoms last at least one month:

  • Bad dreams

  • Flashbacks, or feeling like the scary event is happening again

  • Scary thoughts you cant control

  • Staying away from places and things that remind you of what happened

  • Feeling worried, guilty, or sad

  • Feeling alone

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Feeling on edge

  • Angry outbursts 

  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others.

Children who have PTSD may show other types of problems. These can include:  

  • Behaving like they did when they were younger

  • Being unable to talk

  • Complaining of stomach problems or headaches a lot

  • Refusing to go places or play with friends

Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)


Social phobia usually starts during the child or teen years, usually at about age 13. A doctor can tell that a person has social phobia if the person has had symptoms for at least six months. Without treatment, social phobia can last for many years or a lifetime.


Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. This fear can be so strong that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing other everyday things.


People with social phobia are afraid of doing common things in front of other people; for example, they might be afraid to sign a check in front of a cashier at the grocery store, or they might be afraid to eat or drink in front of other people. All of us have been a little bit nervous, at one time or another, about things like meeting new people or giving a speech; however,  people with social phobia worry about these and other things for weeks before they happen.


Most of the people who have social phobia know that they shouldnt be as afraid as they are, but they cant control their fear. Sometimes, they end up staying away from places or events where they think they might have to do something that will embarrass them. That can keep them from doing the everyday tasks of living and from enjoying times with family and friends.Common symptoms of social phobia: 


  • very anxious about being with other people.

  • very self-conscious in front of other people; that is, they are very worried about how they themselves will act.

  • very afraid of being embarrassed in front of other people.

  • very afraid that other people will judge them.

  • worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be.

  • stay away from places where there are other people.

  • have a hard time making friends and keeping friends.

  • may have body symptoms when they are with other people, such as:

    • blushing

    • heavy sweating

    • trembling

    • nausea

    • having a hard time talking

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