Anxiety Disorders

October 7, 2020
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When something makes us feel nervous or uncomfortable, we feel anxious. Feeling this way occasionally is normal, and not the same as having an anxiety disorder. When a person has an anxiety disorder, the anxiety doesn’t go away, and can worsen with time.

A person with an anxiety disorder cannot just “stop worrying.” There are several kinds of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, phobia disorders, or generalized anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder

A person with a panic disorder will have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden attack of panic or fear that can happen when encountering a feared object or situation, or may happen unexpectedly. When a person is experiencing a panic attack they may display the following symptoms:

  • Feeling like they can’t breathe, are choking, being smothered, or have shortness of breath.
  • Sweating, trembling, or shaking
  • Feeling like they are out of control, or experiencing impending doom
  • Accelerated heart rate, pounding heart, or heart palpitations

A person with a panic disorder may spend time worrying when the next attack will occur, or try to avoid the attacks by avoiding situations, behaviors, or places they associate with an attack. Sometimes trying to avoid triggers can lead to other disorders like agoraphobia.

Phobia-related Disorders

The word phobia is often used to describe feeling uncomfortable with places or situations. Rather than making sufferers uncomfortable, real phobia is signified by an intense fear or aversion toward something. A person without a phobia may be afraid of situations too, but when someone has a phobia the fear isn’t proportionate to the possible danger.

A person with a phobia may:

  • Experience intense anxiety and fear when forced to be around objects or in situations they fear
  • Take steps to avoid being in the situation they dear
  • Experience sudden intense anxiety when faced with the object or situation they fear
  • Spend time worrying about possibly facing the situation or object they fear Agoraphobia and specific phobia are common phobias.

Agoraphobia is a fear of things like being in a crowd, standing in line, being in open spaces, being in enclosed spaces, being outside of their home alone, or using public transportation. Specific phobia is the term for people who have phobias regarding specific objects or situations, such as heights, spiders, snakes, flying, blood, or needles.

Social Anxiety Disorder

A person with a social anxiety disorder will have an intense fear of, and try to avoid, social situations or situations where they will have to perform, such as the workplace, school environments or other, more relaxed social settings.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A person with a generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, will worry excessively about things like everyday situations, social settings, work, or their health. To be diagnosed with GAD you need to experience excessive anxiety or worry most days for a minimum of six months, and the anxiety may cause difficulty with functioning normally in areas like work, school, or social interactions.

A person with GAD may experience the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems, difficulty falling or staying asleep, feeling unrested after sleep
  • Restlessness
  • Mind going blank
  • Feeling irritable, on-edge, or wound-up
  • Muscle tension, and being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of fear or worry

Separation anxiety is also an anxiety disorder, and a person with separation anxiety will feel excessive fear of being parted from people they are attached to. It can occur in both children and adults.

Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

There are several ways to approach the treatment of anxiety disorders. Often a combination of several approaches works best.

Stress Management

Meditation, support groups, and aerobic exercise such as running, dancing, or swimming may help relieve and manage feelings of stress and anxiety.

Support groups, sometimes called self-help groups can also be a helpful way to share problems and achievements with others who suffer from anxiety disorders. These groups can be local, or online. Keep in mind that any advice you get should be checked with your doctor first, especially if it is regarding supplements or medications.

You can also find support in talking with a friend, or a member of the clergy, such as a priest, pastor, or spiritual counselor. It’s important to note that although these groups and activities, while they may be very helpful in dealing with anxiety, should not take the place of seeking treatment from a professional.


Many people with anxiety disorders find great relief in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, when the therapy is dealing with the person’s personal needs or specific anxieties.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has long been used to deal with anxiety disorders. CBT is psychotherapy that specifically deals with changing thinking patterns, and the way a person reacts and behaves in anxiety-inducing situations, or around objects that make them anxious.

Other similar therapies are cognitive therapy or exposure therapy. Cognitive therapy identifies, challenges, and neutralizes thought patterns associated with anxiety, while exposure therapy may help a person engage in an activity they have been avoiding due to anxiety.


While a combination of approaches can greatly relieve symptoms in people with anxiety disorder, a doctor will sometimes prescribe medication in addition to the approaches above. Medications prescribed to relieve the symptoms of anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or beta-blockers.

These medications need to be prescribed by a primary care provider or a psychiatrist. It is important to follow up with your doctor about how your medication makes you feel, especially during the first few weeks of a medication, or when dosage is changed. Not all medications work for all people, and this is why it’s important to be honest with your doctor about whether or not a medication is helping your symptoms or not.

How Can We Help?

If you or a loved one has an anxiety disorder, it is helpful to know that although the disorder cannot necessarily be cured, there are several successful treatments that help people with anxiety disorders live full and happy lives.