As a group, anxiety disorders are the most common of mental illnesses, affecting 19 million Americans each year. Each of the five anxiety disorders disrupts daily tasks to some extent. Some people may simply alter their route to work to avoid a tunnel, while others are so afraid of having a panic attack that they will not leave their homes. Anxiety disorders are treatable with cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or medication.
The most common of the anxiety disorders are phobias
. Specific phobias are disabling, irrational fears of things or situations, such as snakes, heights, or flying that cause a person to limit his or her life unnecessarily. Social phobia
is a fear of embarrassment in social situations and is often accompanied by depression or alcoholism. Agoraphobia is the fear of places or situations from which escape might be hard.Generalized Anxiety Disorder
(GAD) is characterized by excessive and exaggerated worries and feelings of tension lasting at least six months. People with GAD often suffer from depression and physical complaints, such as headaches or stomach aches.Panic Disorder
causes feelings of intense fear that strike suddenly and repeatedly without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal distress, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying. Approximately a third of those with panic disorder also suffer from agoraphobia (the fear of leaving one's house) often due to a fear of having a panic attack and not knowing when one may occur.
(OCD) is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are disturbing thoughts and compulsions are rituals performed to prevent or dispel those obsessions. Common compulsions include excessive hand-washing, counting items, and repeated checking of locks or switches.
Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a violent attack, war, or natural disaster, can trigger Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD). PTSD is characterized by nightmares, intrusive memories of the event, avoidance of reminders of the event (such as places or people), and a constant state of increased arousal.Treating Anxiety Disorders
Most anxiety disorders respond well to treatment, which often begins with the family physician or nurse practitioner, who can help determine if symptoms are due to an anxiety disorder, some other medical condition, or both. Often, the next step is referral to a mental health professional. Psychiatrists generally treat anxiety disorders with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Source: NIMH publications
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