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Anxiety Disorders

These common anxiety disorders and their descriptions are listed below:

Panic Disorder is characterized by an individual experiencing unexpected and recurring panic attacks. The individual has thoughts and concerns about expected future panic attacks or about losing control. The individual may have terrifying fears of losing control or going crazy, a sense of impending doom about the end of the world or death or a preoccupation with unknown dangers.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is also a common anxiety disorder. The person has excessive worry about a variety of events, including family, work, illness, responsibilities, and unknown dangers and has been a concern for more days than not for at least six months. As a result, the individual experiences fatigue, irritation, restlessness, difficulties concentrating and muscle tension.

Phobias, including social phobia and agoraphobia (fear of being in a public place where help might not be available in the event of an unexpected panic attack in a setting in which escape is difficult or embarrassing) is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States and is marked by persistent fear that the individual typically knows is excessive or unreasonable. The fear is brought on by the presence or anticipation of an object or situation such as flying, heights, thunder, earthquakes, animals, needles, seeing blood, fear of choking, etc. Upon being exposed to the object or situation, it usually provokes anxiety which may take the form of a panic attack. Social phobia involves excessive fear of situations where the person feels scrutiny by others and a fear that he or she may act in a humiliating or embarrassing way. The individual will avoid those situations or objects so as to avoid panic and the continued avoidance will begin to interfere with their normal routine at school, work, social activities and important relationships.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) includes symptoms of obsessions (repetitive thoughts or images that produce anxiety) and/or compulsions (the need to perform acts “correctly” or dwell on thoughts to reduce anxiety) that the individual feels he or she cannot control. Some of the common obsessive thoughts involve dirt, germs, disease, death or danger to self or loved ones. Common compulsions can include excessive hand washing, repeating rituals such as going in and out of a door, saying particular numbers, cleaning, checking appliances and door locks, and acquiring or failing to discard useless items is also common. The inability to resist these uncontrollable and intense thoughts or actions arouses anxiety but the failure to continue the ritual acts also increase anxiety and tension. If the individual is not able to perform the compulsions in a certain manner or a certain number of times, the person can become flooded with anxiety. The individuals usually report that their problem interferes with their work, school, or relationships.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  Stress disorders are also anxiety disorders that occur after an extremely traumatic physical or psychological event such as one that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury. An individual experiences intense fear, terror and/or helplessness. The difference in stress disorders such as PTSD compared to other anxiety disorders are that the person can lose interest in activities, have nightmares, feel detached from others and experience a persistent re-experiencing of the event (i.e., a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and flashbacks). They also experience numbing their feelings by avoiding thoughts of the trauma, have an inability to recall important aspects of the trauma, being unable to have loving feelings, and have a sense of a shortened future. These symptoms occur for more than one month. The traumatic event is usually one that is not common, such as death of a loved one or ordinary traffic accident. The event is also usually directly experienced or related to a family member or other close associate and does not develop in every victim.

In children, PTSD may show different symptoms, including, extreme agitated behavior, frightening dreams, repetitive play where aspects of the trauma are expressed or reenacted.

Promising research has shown that cognitive behavioral treatment both in individual and group therapy has been successful in treating certain anxiety disorders. Thought processes are often creating the stressful symptoms of anxiety. Learning how to control one’s self-talk and re-creating it to more supportive self-talk is an effective skill that can be learned in therapy. Individuals may have critical self-beliefs that fuel the anxiety. Relaxation training and other coping strategies are learned in therapy to help manage or stop the physical symptoms of anxiety.