Anxiety itself is a normal and important part of living. It helps us get out of harm's way, prepare for important events or warn us when we need to take action. However, when anxiety is overwhelming or irrational, and it interferes with day-to day activities, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term used to describe the following disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about a number of ordinary events or activities such as work or school performance, their health or safety, or simply just the thought of making it through the day. The worry must occur daily for at least six months. The person often finds it difficult to control the anxiety and worry and becomes unable to carry out even the most ordinary daily activity. The worries are often associated with three or more of the following symptoms; restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, headache and sleep disturbance.
Panic Disorder is characterized by repeated panic or anxiety attacks. Panic attacks can occur out of the blue for no apparent reason and usually last for just a few minutes. They are described as a sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness or terror, often with feelings of impending doom. During most panic attacks, associated symptoms may include: shortness of breath, dizziness, unsteady feelings,
heart palpitations, trembling or shaking, sweating, chest pain, choking, feelings of unreality,
and a fear of dying or going crazy. A common effect of recurring panic attacks is that
the person begins to avoid the situations they associate with past attacks.
Agoraphobia is characterized by persistent avoidance of places or situations in which one feels trapped or fears having a panic attack and/or being unable to escape from the situation. The fear and anxiety can become so debilitating that some individuals become completely housebound. Agoraphobic avoidance can include avoiding elevators, crowds, busy streets, travelling, using public transportation, driving, or being alone.
Social Phobia is characterized by the experience of significant anxiety in certain types of social or performance situations. Persons struggling with social anxiety often fear the evaluation or judgment of others, or fear behaving in a way that will lead to ridicule or embarrassment. Situations often avoided include: public speaking, eating in restaurants, writing in public, using public washrooms, completing tasks in front of people and socializing. Panic or anxiety attacks frequently occur in these situations, and may lead to avoidance of the specific social situation.
Specific Phobia is characterized by excessive anxiety brought on by exposure to a specific feared object or situation, often leading to avoidance behavior. It involves a sense of dread so intense that the individual will do everything to avoid the source of their fear. Even thinking about facing the feared object or situation can bring on a panic attack. Commonly feared specific objects or situations include blood and needles, hospitals, closed-in places, dogs, insects, bridges or highways, heights, driving and flying.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by recurrent, intrusive, and unpleasant thoughts, images or impulses, which are referred to as obsessions. The anxiety caused by these obsessions becomes so distressing that strategies are developed to try to feel better. These strategies are referred to as compulsions or rituals and are attempts to relieve the anxiety caused by the intrusive and obsessive thoughts. Compulsions are usually performed repetitively. The person spends excessive amounts of time preoccupied with the obsessive thoughts and rituals, which interfere significantly with their normal daily functioning. The most common obsessions include: dirt or germ contamination, disease or illness, doubt, and thoughts of violence or hostility. Common compulsions include: hand washing, counting rituals, repeating certain movements over and over, checking and re-checking, collecting or hoarding items, and straightening or lining things up.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that occurs when an individual has survived the experience of a terrifying, often life-threatening event, such as a serious car accident or a violent attack. Persons who have survived a traumatic event may become so preoccupied with the experience that they are not able to live a normal life. They frequently relive the event in vivid detail through frightening memories and nightmares which may increase their fears and avoidance or they may become emotionally numb. They may also experience sleep problems, depression, irritability, more aggressive behavior, violent outbursts, or panic attacks.