Anxiety

Anxiety Disorders are characterized by excessive fear and worry which often result in some form of physical distress (e.g., muscle tension, increased heart-rate/respiration, chest or gastrointestinal pain/discomfort) and behavioral avoidance. Anxiety Disorders lead to significant impairment in a person’s social, occupational, and daily functioning.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and exaggerated worry and nervousness that is often unrelated to an actual threat to one’s environment. Individuals with GAD often worry throughout the day and this excessive worrying interferes with their school, work, family, and social relationships. In addition, individuals with GAD frequently experience feelings of restlessness or edginess, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by the presence of obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, or the combination of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessive thoughts are thoughts which are intrusive and inappropriate and cause an individual significant anxiety and distress. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, putting objects in order, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying or counting) that a person feels compelled to perform in an attempt to minimize feelings of anxiety.

Social Phobia, also commonly referred to as Social Anxiety Disorder, is characterized by a persistent, irrational fear of situations in which a person may encounter judgment or criticism from others. Individuals with social phobia fear being scrutinized by others in social situations, and as a result, will avoid such situations. The social phobia may be limited to certain social situations or be widespread, affecting a person’s ability to socialize in various settings. Physical symptoms of social phobia may include blushing, difficulty talking, nausea, profuse sweating, and trembling. A person who suffers from social phobia is not the same as a person who is shy. Social phobia significantly impacts a person’s ability to function in social situations, and may impact his/her work and relationships.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterized by symptoms that include intense fear, helplessness, and/or horror that a person experiences following an exposure to a traumatic event. The traumatic event can include an actual or threatened death or a threat to one’s or another person’s physical integrity. Symptoms of PTSD can also emerge when a person learns about an unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threatened death that was experienced by a family member or close acquaintance. Individuals who display symptoms of PTSD often re-experience the traumatic event, may experience guilt over surviving, avoid stimuli associated with the event, and are increasingly sensitive to outside stimuli. Though many people who experience a traumatic event often find themselves re-living it or experiencing fear, the symptoms persist for more than one month and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden feelings of intense fear or discomfort which are usually accompanied by physical symptoms (e.g., racing heart, sweating, chest pain, shaking, etc.) and emotional symptoms (e.g., fear of dying, feelings of detachment, fear of losing control, etc.) that cause an individual significant distress. Following the experience of a panic attack, individuals with panic disorder may develop feelings of anxiety concerning being in a place or a situation from which it will be difficult to escape in the event that they experience another panic attack. When individuals begin avoiding many different situations (e.g., being alone outside, being on a bus, or going into an elevator) or experience significant anxiety while being exposed to these situations, their symptoms would be described as Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.

Simple/Specific Phobia is a persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, animal, or activity. The fear is irrational because the situation, object, animal or activity poses no real threat or harm. When exposed to the feared stimulus, the person may experience extreme anxiety or panic, a response that is not proportionate to the real threat. Specific phobias often include fear of blood, enclosed spaces, flying, insects, high spaces, or certain animals. When the person comes in contact with the feared stimulus, his/her physical response may include rapid heart rate, sweating, and/or problems controlling muscles.

Health Anxiety, also known as Hypochondriasis, refers to the preoccupation with or worries about having a serious disease, in the absence of a diagnosed medical condition. This is often based on misinterpretation of bodily sensations or signs. Those suffering from health anxiety tend to engage compulsively in reassurance-seeking behaviors such as constantly visiting doctors and specialists, undergoing excessive diagnostic tests, or researching their feared conditions and symptoms on the internet, through message boards or medical websites. Concerns about the feared illness can become integral to the sufferer’s self-definition and can sometimes lead to severe anxiety or panic attacks. To reach a clinically-diagnosable level, the preoccupation must last for at least six months.

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