Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is the state of tension and apprehension that naturally occurs in response to a perceived threat. In anxiety disorders, the frequency and intensity of anxiety responses are out of proportion to the nature of the situations that trigger them, and the anxiety interferes with daily life.

Anxiety responses have three components:

1) a cognitive component, including subjective feelings of apprehension, a feeling of inability to cope, and a sense of impending danger,

2) physiological responses, including muscle tension, rapid breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, and frequent urination; and

3) behavioral responses, including avoidance of certain situations and impaired task performance.

Phobic Disorder

Phobias are strong and irrational fears of certain objects or situations. People realize that their fears are out of proportion to the danger involved, but feel helpless to deal with these fears. Instead they go out of their way to avoid phobic objects or situations. The most common phobias in Western society include social phobias (excessive fear of situations in which the person might be evaluated and possibly embarrassed), agoraphobia (a fear of open and public places), and specific phobias, such as fears of enclosed spaces, airplanes, dogs, and elevators.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic state of free-floating anxiety that is not attached to specific situations or objects. This kind of anxiety may last for months on end, with the signs exhibited almost continuously. The anxiety can markedly interfere with daily functioning, and make it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, and remember commitments. Generalized anxiety disorders tend to start in childhood and adolescence.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorders occur suddenly and unpredictably, and are much more intense than generalized anxiety disorders. The symptoms can be terrifying, and it is not unusual for victims to feel like they are dying. Panic attacks happen out of the blue and without any identifiable stimulus.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder usually consists of two components (cognitive and behavioral), although either can occur alone. Obsessions are repetitive and unwelcome thoughts, impulses, or images that invade a person’s consciousness and are very difficult to dismiss or control. Compulsions are repetitive behavioral responses that can be resisted only with great difficulty. They are often responses to obsessive thoughts that function to reduce the anxiety associated with the thought. Compulsions are extremely difficult to control. Because they seem to reduce anxiety, they are strengthened through a process of negative reinforcement because they allow a person to avoid anxiety.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in people who have been exposed to traumatic life events. People with the disorder commonly exhibit four major symptoms:

-severe anxiety, arousal, and distress that were not present before the trauma

-“flashbacks”, dreams, and fantasies that cause the person to relive the trauma recurrently.

-numbness to the world and avoidance of stimuli that remind him or her of the trauma

-in cases where others are killed, extreme guilt about surviving a catastrophe when others did not

In general, traumas resulting from human actions, such as war, rape, and torture, tend to precipitate more severe PTSD reactions than natural disasters do. The psychological wreckage that results may increase vulnerability and the risk of developing other disorders in the future.

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