Anxiety disorders are characterized by the presence of extreme levels of anxiety. The term "anxiety" can refer to a mood or a clinical syndrome. Anxiety anticipates future problems, involves pessimistic thoughts and feelings, and has a sense of uncontrollability.
It involves self-focus or self-preoccupation
Anxiety is actually helpful at low levels. It's that nagging feeling that urges people to pay a bill before it becomes overdue or study for an upcoming exam. But too much anxiety can impair performance, cause distress or even results in physical symptoms.
Fear vs. Anxiety
Fear and anxiety are related but they are not the same. Fear is a
negative emotional reaction in the face of immediate danger. It builds quickly to help organize a response to environmental threat.
With anxiety the danger is not immediate, rather the emotional reaction is diffuse.
Worry is the cognitive activity associated with anxiety. It's the
uncontrollable sequence of negative thoughts concerned with possible future danger. Worry can be self-initiated or provoked by a specific experience.
Excessive worriers lack control over thoughts and the resulting negative mood.
Features of Anxiety Disorders
People with anxiety disorders share a preoccupation with, or persistent avoidance of, thoughts or situations that provoke fear or anxiety. Anxiety disorders include phobias, obsessions, compulsions, extreme worry, panic attacks, and avoidance. Of all the currently classified psychological disorders, anxiety disorders are the most common type of abnormal behavior.
Seventeen percent of adults have at least one type of anxiety disorder in a given year.
Phobias are persistent, irrational, narrowly defined fears associated with a specific object or situation. Phobias involve avoidance of a feared object (specific phobia) or social situation (social phobia). A rational fear, such as fear of being robbed while in a dark alley at night, would not be a phobia. The resulting avoidance leads to social or occupational impairment.
Common phobias include heights (acrophobia), small animals (zoophobia), blood or injuries, airline travel, public speaking, and social situations.
Panic attacks represent an overwhelming experience of terror or fright. It is thought that
possibly this is a normal fear response triggered at the wrong time (i.e. a false alarm).
A panic attack is comprised of many physical symptoms that develop suddenly.
People with these attacks feel like they are going to die, lose control or go crazy.
The attack can occur (seemingly) out-of-the-blue or be "cued" by an event. People with recurrent attacks are said to have panic disorder.
The fear of having a future attack often leads to agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is usually described as a fear of public spaces. However, this disorder is
more complex than other phobias. It is rooted in a fear of being unable to escape.
This phobia increases with distance from familiar surroundings.
Often triggered initially by prior panic attack, it can be thought of as "fear of fear,"
Obsessions and Compulsions
Obsessions are repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that intrude
suddenly into consciousness. Seemingly from "out-of-the-blue,"
these involve unacceptable or upsetting themes that increase feelings of anxiety.
Common obsessional themes involve contamination, sexual misbehavior, acting on a violent impulse, or harm coming to others due to carelessness.
They may also involve serious violation of religious beliefs or forgetting something important.
Compulsions are repetitive, ritualistic behaviors intended to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions.
The compulsions are considered senseless or irrational, and the patient feels he cannot resist the
behavior or that he has "diminished control."
Emotionally, it is usually easier to give in than to resist.
Common compulsions include washing, checking, repetitive prayers, counting, hoarding,
re-reading, requests for reassurance, and avoidances.
Both obsessions and compulsions are key features of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Anxiety disorders are very common. Specific phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder (9% per year).
Social phobia is the second most common (8%), followed by agoraphobia without panic disorder (3%), and
generalized anxiety disorder (3%).
Panic disorder (2%) and
obsessive-compulsive disorder (2%) are less common.
Although anxiety disorders are extremely common, only 25% of people with anxiety disorders seek treatment.
50% of people with one anxiety disorder also meet criteria for another anxiety or mood disorder.
61% of people with major depression also receive anxiety disorder diagnosis.