People with anxiety disorders are incapacitated by chronic and intense feelings of anxiety, feelings so strong that they are unable to function on a day-to-day basis (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2003). Common anxiety disorders include Panic Disorder With or Without Agoraphobia, Specific Phobia, Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Each of these anxiety disorders has different symptoms but they are all related to excessive, irrational fear and dread (National Institute of Mental Health). The following sections of this article present common anxiety disorders that interfere with the daily functioning of the individuals who experience them.
Panic disorder attacks occur suddenly and are associated with intense apprehension, fearfulness, terror and feelings of impending doom (APA, 2000). These attacks are unpredictable. Connolly & Authors (2006) said that the uncued, episodic attacks must include at least four out of 13 symptoms such as heart pounding, sweating, shaking, difficulty breathing, chest pressure/pain, feeling of choking, nausea, chills or dizziness. Panic attacks are overwhelming and people experience a range of bodily sensations that cause them to feel that they are losing control, usually peaking after occurring for 10 minutes (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2003). Panic disorders are further distinguished by the presence or absence of agoraphobia, the fear of places or situations from which escape might be challenging. If the panic attacks arise from anxiety about being in places or circumstances where escape might be difficult or embarrassing they are considered agoraphobic, while those without agoraphobia are not associated with particular situations but are rather characterized by fears of losing self-control (Corcoran & Walsh, 2006).
Phobias are other examples of anxiety disorders. Specific phobias are the most commonly known type, which are characterized by the irrational and unabating fear of a particular object, activity, or situation that provokes an immediate anxiety response (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2003). If the person encounters the stimuli that they are fearful of, they will experience significant disruption and avoid it at all costs. Connolly and colleagues (2006) said that a specific fear can develop into a specific phobia if symptoms are significant enough to result in extreme distress or impairment related to the fear. Avoidant behavior must be present and greatly interfere in the person’s life in order for a fear to qualify as a phobic disorder.
Social phobia is the extreme fear and or avoidance of social situations that often causes blushing, sweating, or heart palpitations when social encounters occur (Papalia, 2004). People with this anxiety disorder often fear how others will view them and are uncomfortable in social arenas where there is the potential for embarrassment. A person with social phobia experiences difficulty initiating conversations, talking with unfamiliar people, attending parties and social events (Connolly et. al., 2006). Restaurants, shopping centers and classrooms are examples of places that may trigger anxiety for a person with social phobia.
The anxiety that results from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is due to both recurring thoughts that cause marked anxiety and compulsive behaviors that temporarily serve to neutralize the anxiety (Corcoran & Walsh, 2006). The intrusive qualities of this disorder are undesirable so individuals attempt to find ways to cope which are often maladaptive. An example of a compulsive behavior is hand-washing that is done constantly in order to avoid germs. How would you know if behaviors are considered to be compulsive? Corcoran and Walsh (2006) said that the obsessions and compulsions are severe enough to be time consuming, greater than one hour per day, or cause marked distress or significant impairment.
Acute Stress Disorder & Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder are additional examples of anxiety disorders. Acute Stress Disorder develops immediately after a traumatic happening in which a person experiences intense fear, helplessness or horror (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2003). This anxiety response should dissipate after the person is able to process the event over several days or weeks. If the person is not able to regain daily functioning they may go on to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is marked by the reexperiencing of an extremely traumatic event accompanied by symptoms of increased arousal and by avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma (APA, 2000). This disorder results after physical harm or the potential for physical harm. The National Institute of Mental Health clarifies that the person who develops PTSD may have been the one to experience the harm, the harm may have occurred to a loved one, or they may have observed the harm inflicted to another. People who have PTSD continue to experience debilitating fear and stress when they and others are no longer in danger.
American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edition, (DSM-IV-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Connolly, S. D. et al. (2006). Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Anxiety Disorders. Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry.
Corcoran, J. & Walsh, J. (2006). Clinical assessment and diagnosis in social work practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Halgin, R. P. & Whitbourne, S. K. (2003). Abnormal psychology: Clinical perspectives on psychological disorders. Boston: McGraw Hill.
National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov)
Papalia, D. E., Olds, S. W., & Feldman, R. D. (2004). A child’s world: Infancy through adolescence. (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.