Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders are the most common type of abnormal behavior, with 17% of adults having at least one type of Anxiety Disorder in a given year. People with Anxiety Disorders share a preoccupation with, or a persistent avoidance of, thoughts or situations that provoke anxiety. Anxiety involves an intense emotional reaction brought on by anticipation of future problems -- this anxiety is out of proportion with actual threats provided by ones environment.

Because of the their similarity and cause, Anxiety Disorders are often comorbid with one another, meaning those who suffer from one often suffer from another, or will later in life. Anxiety Disorders are also commonly comorbid with Mood Disorders (such as Major Depression and Bipolar Disorder).

All Anxiety Disorders afflict both sexes in great numbers, but some have significant gender differences. Women are three times more likely to suffer from a Specific Phobia than their male counterparts, and twice as likely to experience Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia (without Panic Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Social Phobia is also more prevalent among women than men, but the differences are not as great. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder however afflicts both men and women in almost equal numbers.

People across all cultures suffer from Anxiety Disorders, but the focus of the anxiety can differ. People in Western societies are more likely to suffer anxiety in regards to work performance, whereas people in other societies have been known to be more concerned with religion or family experiences.

Anxiety disorders are often treated with medications, but respond best to treatment with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Below are the categories of Anxiety Disorders, and the percentage with which they afflict the general U.S. population.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (2%) (OCD)

OCD is an Anxiety Disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors that significantly interfere with normal life. The obsessive and compulsive rituals can occupy many hours of each day. Obsessions are unwanted, recurrent, and disturbing thoughts which the person cannot suppress and which can cause overwhelming anxiety. Common obsessions include fear of contamination, causing harm to another, making a mistake, behaving in a socially unacceptable manner (such as being afraid of exposing oneself in public), a need for symmetry or exactness (doing something an equal amount of times to make it "right"), excessive doubt (such as questioning ones sexuality). Compulsions are repetitive, ritualized behaviors that the person feels driven to perform to alleviate the anxiety of the obsessions. For instance a person who fears imagined germs might have to wash themselves in a certain manner to feel "clean." Common compulsions include cleaning/washing, checking, arranging/organizing, collecting/hoarding, counting/repeating. A person suffering from OCD usually has both obsessions and compulsions, but they can appear independent of the other. More about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder...

Panic Attacks (2%) — with Agoraphobia, without Agoraphobia

Panic Attacks are overwhelming bouts of terror and fright that often occur seemingly out of the blue. People suffering from a panic attack often feel as if they are going to die, lose control, or go crazy. It is thought by some medical professionals that a Panic Attack may be a normal fear response that is simply triggered at the wrong time. Many physical (somatic) symptoms present themselves in Panic Attacks, such as sweating, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chills and others. It is thought by some clinicians that the misinterpretation of these physical symptoms often leads to a panic attack increasing in severity, such as a person suffering from heart palpitations concluding that they are suffering from an actual heart attack.
More about Panic Disorder...

Agoraphobia (3%) — Without Panic Disorder

The word Agoraphobia means fear of open spaces, but actually Agoraphobia is when a person becomes anxious about going anywhere where a quick escape will be difficult or embarrassing. This definition is based on the view that Agoraphobia is a complication that follows the experience of a Panic Attack. The biggest element of Agoraphobia is avoidance, where the person avoids a certain situation. People suffering from Agoraphobia avoid a variety of situations and often end up unable to leave their own home, or, if they do, suffer from great distress. Many can only leave when accompanied by another person who can offer comfort and security. People afflicted with Agoraphobia often need to sit near exits, so they're close to an escape, or won't sit with their back to a door. It is rare, but one can suffer from Agoraphobia without also suffering from Panic Attacks...

Specific Phobia (9%)

Specific Phobias are the most common form of Anxiety Disorders. A Specific Phobia is an excessive or unreasonable fear that is cued by the presence, or the anticipated presence of a specific object or situation. Some of the most frequent types of Specific Phobia include, fear of heights, illness and injury, small animals and bugs, being in a small area, tunnels or bridges, storms, and specific kinds of public transportation. African-Americans are more likely to experience Specific Phobias than whites.
More about Specific Phobias...

Social Phobia (8%) — Performance Anxiety, Interpersonal Interactions

Social Phobia is very similar to Specific Phobia, but instead contains the element of performance. People suffering from Social Phobia are afraid of and avoid social situations because of a fear of being humiliated or embarrassed, or in some cases, they have an intense fear disappointing others. These fears fall into two categories: performance anxiety (such as public speaking) and interpersonal interactions (such as conversing with strangers at a party, or going on a date). Some people who suffer from Social Phobia are intensely shy, and suffer in almost every social situation, whereas others are simply afraid of a specific situation, such as delivering an oral report, playing a musical instrument, eating in a restaurant, or urinating in a public restroom. Take our online social anxiety test.
More about Social Phobias...


Taijin kyofusho or taijin kyoufu (TKS) is a related social anxiety disorder characterized by extreme interpersonal sensitivity, with fear and avoidance of interpersonal situations. The individual with TKS fears that his or her body, or its functions, is offensive to other people in appearance or odor. TKS has been reported primarily in the East and has been characterized as a culture-bound syndrome.
More about Taijin Kyofusho...

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (3%) (GAD) — Excessive worry about evryday concerns

Excessive anxiety and worry of a broad and general nature are the primary symptoms of GAD. Those suffering from GAD have a general restlessness regarding just about everything. People afflicted with GAD include symptoms such as feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty in concentrating or mind suddenly going blank, sleep disturbance and muscle tension. Because of the generalized symptoms and because GAD has the highest overlap with other Anxiety Disorders, it is one of the most controversial Anxiety Disorders. Some medical professionals have proposed that GAD should be thought of more as a trait or vulnerability factor that warns of the potential development of specific types of Anxiety Disorders. Other experts maintain that it is indeed its own independent disorder. More about Generalized Anxiety Disorder...

Traumatic Stress Disorders

Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are classified as Anxiety Disorders, but some experts consider them separately because of their emphasis on disassociative symptoms, and the debate whether disassociation or anxiety is the most important feature of traumatic stress disorders. One thing is certain though, anxiety, distress and disassociation are linked together, but how they are linked together is not agreed upon or known.

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

ASD occurs within 4 weeks of the experience of a stressful or catastrophic life event (such as severe car crash, or being raped) that causes trauma. Symptoms include reliving the stressful event in ones mind, feelings of disassociation, avoidance of anything to do with the traumatic event, and the experience of general anxiety or arousal.
More about Acute Stress Disorder...

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD contains all of the same symptoms of ASD, the difference between the two is that PTSD is longer lasting, or in some cases has a later onset. Often ASD turns into PTSD, or as stated, a person suffers from a stressful life event and remains unaffected until suddenly being stricken by these symptoms months later. People most likely to suffer PTSD are those who have experienced rape or another sexual assault, or those who have been badly beaten up. The sudden death of a loved one also puts a person at a high risk for trauma that leads to PTSD. Natural disasters and serious car crashes are other lesser traumatic events that can lead to PTSD. More about Post-Traumatic Disorder...

Credits: Article written by Matthew Jahn & Monnica Williams, Ph.D.; Source: Oltmanns TF & Emery RE, Abnormal Psychology, 4th ed, Prentice Hall, 2004.

 
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