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An Introduction to Mental Health Anxiety Disorders

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/3/2011

Everyone experiences some degree of anxiety from time to time. If you suffer from persistent or uncontrollable anxiety, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. In this article you'll learn about the symptoms and signs of five different types of mental health anxiety disorders.

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    Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    Generalized anxiety disorder is a relatively common mental health anxiety disorder, affecting nearly 6.8 million American adults, with women being affected more frequently than men, says the National Institute of Mental Health. The main feature of generalized anxiety disorder is a feeling of persistent, irrational and uncontrollable worry, usually about everyday situations over which you feel you have little or no control. You may be filled with worry over specific issues such as finances, relationships, work or family. You might experience difficulty sleeping and can't easily fall asleep, feel easily fatigued, irritable or nervous, find yourself developing otherwise unexplainable health issues such as stomach aches or headaches and, as with other types of anxiety disorders, may turn to substances or alcohol to self-medicate in an attempt to alleviate your anxious feelings.

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    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    As the name suggests, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is characterized by two main symptoms - obsession and compulsions. Obsessions are repetitive, uncontrollable and unwanted thoughts. Compulsions, or repetitive behaviors, are used by the sufferer to help alleviate the anxiety caused by the obsessions. Some common themes in OCD include a fear of germs, manifesting in behaviors such as compulsive handwashing, or a need for order, sometimes manifesting in checking or counting behaviors.

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    Panic Disorder

    Panic disorder is perhaps one of the most frightening mental health anxiety disorders. What makes panic disorder so scary is the occurrence of panic attacks, which are debilitating attacks that seem to come out of nowhere, resulting in feelings of intense dread, panic and anxiety. If you've ever had a panic attack, you might live in constant fear of having another one, because you never know when they might strike. Panic attacks often produce serious physical symptoms that can make you feel as though you're going crazy or that you're having a heart attack. Some of the common physical symptoms of panic attacks include sweating, chest pain, hyperventilation, dizziness and a racing heartbeat.

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    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder that may develop after witnessing or participating in a traumatic or scary event that may have been, or felt, life-threatening at the time. It can occur if you've been a victim of abuse, witnessed or had a severe car accident or any other type of frightening, violent event that caused you to fear for the physical safety of yourself or others. You may experience flashbacks to the event, have nightmares about the event, suffer from persistent memories of the event or feel detached and numb to life in general.

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    Social Anxiety Disorder

    Social anxiety, also called social phobia, is characterized by an intense fear of social situations. You may experience this fear in just one type of setting, such as a fear of parties, or you may experience the fear across a broad spectrum of events. You may avoid contact with others for fear of being judged or criticized. The fear can severely affect regular activities, for example, by dreading and wanting to avoid having to go to school or work each day. Your dread can become so intense that you develop physical symptoms, such as stomach pains, nausea or headaches.

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    References

    National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

    Medline Plus: Panic Disorder http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/panicdisorder.html