What Is Anxiety?

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Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can be extremely debilitating, having a serious impact on daily life.

People often experience a general state of worry or fear before confronting something challenging such as a test, examination, recital, or interview. These feelings are easily justified and considered normal. Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to sleep or otherwise function. Generally speaking, anxiety occurs when a reaction is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation.

Anxiety disorders can be classified into several more specific types. The most common are briefly described below.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a chronic disorder characterized by excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worry about nonspecific life events, objects, and situations. GAD sufferers often feel afraid and worry about health, money, family, work, or school, but they have trouble both identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries. Their fear is usually unrealistic or out of proportion with what may be expected in their situation. Sufferers expect failure and disaster to the point that it interferes with daily functions like work, school, social activities, and relationships.

A short video discussing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). (video by healthyplace)

What is Panic Disorder?

Panic Disorder is a type of anxiety characterized by brief or sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension that leads to shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Panic attacks tend to arise abruptly and peak after 10 minutes, but they then may last for hours. Panic disorders usually occur after frightening experiences or prolonged stress, but they can be spontaneous as well. A panic attack may lead an individual to be acutely aware of any change in normal body function, interpreting it as a life threatening illness – hypervigiliance followed by hypochondriasis. In addition, panic attacks lead a sufferer to expect future attacks, which may cause drastic behavioral changes in order to avoid these attacks.

A short video discussing panic disorder. (video by NHSChoices)

What is a Phobia?

A Phobia is an irrational fear and avoidance of an object or situation. Phobias are different from generalized anxiety disorders because a phobia has a fear response identified with a specific cause. The fear may be acknowledged as irrational or unnecessary, but the person is still unable to control the anxiety that results. Stimuli for phobia may be as varied as situations, animals, or everyday objects. For example, agoraphobia occurs when one avoids a place or situation to avoid an anxiety or panic attack. Agoraphobics will situate themselves so that escape will not be difficult or embarrassing, and they will change their behavior to reduce anxiety about being able to escape.


A video discussing phobias. (video by healthyplace)

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety Disorder is a type of social phobia characterized by a fear of being negatively judged by others or a fear of public embarrassment due to impulsive actions. This includes feelings such as stage fright, a fear of intimacy, and a fear of humiliation. This disorder can cause people to avoid public situations and human contact to the point that normal life is rendered impossible.


A 28 minute video discussing social anxiety disorder with leading expert, Dr. Murray Stein. (video by uctelevision)

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by thoughts or actions that are repetitive, distressing, and intrusive. OCD suffers usually know that their compulsions are unreasonable or irrational, but they serve to alleviate their anxiety. Often, the logic of someone with OCD will appear superstitious, such as an insistence in walking in a certain pattern. OCD sufferers may obsessively clean personal items or hands or constantly check locks, stoves, or light switches.


A 4 minute video discussing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (video by koritzls)

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is anxiety that results from previous trauma such as military combat, rape, hostage situations, or a serious accident. PTSD often leads to flashbacks and behavioral changes in order to avoid certain stimuli.


A 28 minute video discussing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (video by uctelevision)

What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?
Separation Anxiety Disorder is characterized by high levels of anxiety when separated from a person or place that provides feelings of security or safety. Sometimes separation results in panic, and it is considered a disorder when the response is excessive or inappropriate.


A short video of a toddler demonstrating separation anxiety. (video by jenningh)

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