Anxiety, Stress, and Anxiety Disorders

All of us experience anxiety or stress – uneasiness or apprehension about an anticipated event or situation – at some time in our lives.

  • A major project is due at work or school.
  • Your partner or child is late getting home.
  • You are interviewing for a new job.

Mild feelings of stress and anxiety are common. These feelings often help you identify and cope with stressful situations. However, when worries or fears cause lots of distress, interfere with your life, and dictate your actions, you’ve moved beyond normal anxiety into potentially disabling conditions called anxiety disorders.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

All anxiety disorders share in common the experience of fear, anxiety or apprehension.  They differ in how the anxiety may be experienced. Here are a few of the most common anxiety-related disorders:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

People with OCD repeatedly have unwanted and upsetting thoughts, ideas or mental images, called obsessions.  Examples of obsessions include fears of dirt or germs, concern about making terrible but unlikely mistakes, concerns about numbers, and unwanted sexual, blasphemous, or violent thoughts.

People with OCD may also develop compulsions.  Compulsions are behaviors used to reduce the anxiety produced by obsessive thoughts or to try to keep a feared event from occurring.  Compulsions can include repetitive actions (such as washing, checking, and repeating other activities) or mental activities (such as counting or repeating phrases to oneself). They can also consist of detailed rituals (for example, arranging objects in a precise order before you begin to work or following a complicated series of steps to wash your hands).

Panic attacks and panic disorder

If you have panic attacks, you have feelings of intense fear and anxiety that may strike suddenly, or in situations where you don’t expect to be anxious.   Attacks can occur at home or in public, or they can even awaken you from a deep sleep.  They’re terrifying because they are accompanied by intense physical symptoms — so intense you may believe you’re having a heart attack, dying or losing your mind.  People with panic disorder experience multiple panic attacks

Phobias

It’s normal to feel some discomfort about certain objects or situations, but if your fears become irrational and uncontrollable, and avoiding the feared situation affects your social interactions and how you function day to day, then you may have a phobia.  Common phobias include a fear of enclosed spaces, animals, storms, heights, flying, dentists, blood or injections, and bridges.

Social Anxiety Diorder

People with social anxiety disorder have an extreme fear of social situations.  You may fear being embarrassed or humiliated and therefore often avoid social interactions. You may be anxious when meeting strangers, talking on the telephone or attending parties.  Or you may fear a particular situation, such as public speaking or being watched while eating.

Intense Health Anxiety

From time to time most everyone has thoughts or concerns about their own health. However, people with intense health anxiety experience persistent and uncontrollable thoughts that they may have serious illnesses such as cancer, strokes, or heart disease. These fears usually come from experiencing real bodily symptoms that the person interprets as very serious.  People with health anxiety may also avoid situations or objects that remind them of feared illnesses, perhaps even avoiding doctor visits for fear of discovering that they are ill. In other people, a common symptom is the urge to repeatedly seek reassurance from doctors, other medical references, or friends and relatives to reduce health-related fears and uncertainties. Despite such reassurance, however, the concern about illness usually persists.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent worry.  You may worry about yourjob, finances, children, relationships, and health, even when there are no realistic signs of impending problems or danger.  Your worries do not have to be centered on something special for you to still feel tense all day and be unable to relax.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety triggered by memories of an event you experienced or witnessed in which there was actual or threatened death or harm to you or someone you know. You may be at risk of developing PTSD if you’ve been physically or sexually assaulted, tortured, been in a fire or natural disaster, or had a serious automobile accident.    Symptoms of PTSD include increased anxiety, avoidance of situations that remind you of the trauma, difficulty feeling emotions, and re-experiencing the event in nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts.