What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety relates to thoughts about the future – about the possibility of something bad happening. It also involves worry about the inability to control or predict the future. This is different to fear which is in the here and now. Fear is about a current danger.

Anxiety disorders are common and include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: The concern or worry in generalized anxiety disorder is not related to a major worry instead the person worries about small, everyday happenings.

Panic Disorder: A panic attack is a fear response when there is no actual danger. So a panic attack is like a false alarm. Anxiety in panic disorders is about the possibility of having another panic attack rather than other worries like with generalized anxiety disorder. Agoraphobia can also be a part of a panic disorder. In panic disorder a person will avoid places that they feel are unsafe.

Phobias: Avoidance is also part of a phobia, but in this case it is very specific. If you have a phobia about spider you will avoid them. If you have a phobia about planes you will travel by train instead. Phobias may also involve panic attacks when a person is exposed to what they fear. So the anxiety related to phobias relates to a specific object (like a spider) or situation (being on a plane). Phobias can develop from a traumatic experience. They can also be taught, either directly or indirectly by observing someone else’s experience.

Social Phobia: This is a type of phobia that involves social situations. So the anxiety is about being around others, especially if it involves some sort of performance such as giving a speech. As with other phobias people with a social phobia can also have panic attacks.

Post traumatic Stress Disorder: The anxiety in post traumatic stress disorder is about a past traumatic experience. People with post traumatic stress disorder avoid feelings, thoughts and reminders of the traumatic event.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: This anxiety disorder has two important parts. The first is obsessions, which are frightening or horrible thoughts. The second is compulsions, which are actions that are used to try and diffuse or decrease the obsessive thoughts and the anxiety the cause. Unfortunately rather than helping keep the obsessive thoughts under control compulsions actually increase how often a person thinks about them.

Biological (like genes and brain chemistry), psychological (like thoughts) and stress all interact to create anxiety disorders. People with anxiety disorders can gain information and treatment from psychiatrists and psychologists.

Photo: Fear by starpinker – Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)