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Anxiety Disorders - An Overview
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. People become anxious when they have to face a highly stressful situation like taking a test or going for a job interview. When one is anxious and under stress, the body reacts; hands become clammy, the heart beats a little faster; one can even feel lightheaded or dizzy. This is a natural, and necessary, “fight or flight” reaction! Anxiety in moderate doses is perfectly healthy. Worry can even be good for you; it can motivate you to get things done and protect you from danger.
However, some people become preoccupied with fear and worry, and the intense feelings of anxiety continue. If the anxiety continues for a long period of time, or is particularly intense, it may have a serious negative impact on that person’s quality of life. If this is the case, the person may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is the most common mental health issue experienced by young people today. Anxiety disorders describe a wide range of issues and symptoms, and each person may experience anxiety differently. Here is a list of some more common anxiety disorders, but it’s important to remember that most people don’t fit neatly into a “category”.
Panic disorder: During a panic attack, a person becomes extremely distressed and experiences both physical and psychological symptoms of panic. Someone that has panic attacks regularly to the point where it’s disruptive to their life may have panic disorder.
Specific phobias: Someone who has a very strong and overwhelming fear of a situation or an object, even if it doesn’t pose any “real” danger, may have a phobia. A phobia can cause intense physical and psychological reactions. There are many different types of phobias.
Generalized anxiety disorder: Someone who has an intense and frequent or constant feeling of worry and tension, even when nothing seems to be causing it, might have generalized anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety: When someone experiences extreme worry, distress or tension in social situations, to the point where it is getting in the way of relationships and living a healthy life, they might have social anxiety disorder.
Attachment disorder: When someone has early life experiences of being unable to bond with or form healthy attachments to parents or early caregivers, they may experience trouble with mood, anxiety, behaviour and/or social relationships later in life. The broad term for this is attachment disorder.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): If someone is experiencing thoughts that are intrusive or obsessive (they can’t control them or make them stop), they might have OCD. These thoughts often, but not always, can lead someone to do certain behaviours or rituals in order to ease the intrusive thought temporarily. These behaviours can become disruptive to the person’s life.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Someone that has experienced or witnessed something traumatic, and as a result is experiencing intense anxiety, mood or behavioural issues, might have PTSD.
Anxiety disorders are not:
- Being moderately stressed or worried about a test, performance, or something else that is typically stress inducing.
- The result of any actions or personal failures of the individual.
- A sign/result of low intelligence or weakness.
- All the same or even similar. Symptoms differ between disorders and people.
Myth: You only get anxiety if you are a nervous person.
Fact: Anyone at any point in time can develop an issue with anxiety. It is one of the most common mental health problems faced today, particularly among young people.
Myth: Since anxiety is "in your head," anxiety disorders are not true illnesses.
Fact: In fact, an anxiety disorder is an extreme form of uncontrollable worry and fear that causes serious misery and impairment. If it's not treated, it can dramatically limit a person’s quality of life.
Myth: People with anxiety are weak and should just pull themselves together.
Fact: People are not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder unless it's much more overwhelming and impairing than the typical anxiety people feel. People with anxiety need treatment to manage their feelings and feel safe. Having a disorder has nothing to do with a person’s “strength”. It is a combination of genetics, psychological and environmental factors that lead to the illness. Telling someone who has an anxiety disorder to “just calm down” is like telling someone who needs glasses to “just see better”. It just doesn’t work that way.
Myth: Avoiding anxiety-producing situations is a good way to manage your worry.
Fact: This seems like an easy solution, but remember that anxiety disorders can be hard to pinpoint, and anxiety can be triggered by everyday things (like being outside, or being around people) that need to be a part of living a healthy life. For many people, treatment for an anxiety disorder actually includes slow and monitored exposure to the thing or situation that triggers the fear, while working on building coping strategies.
Myth: Anxiety is good for you! It makes you more productive.
Fact: Although healthy amounts of stress and worry are good motivators for getting things done, an anxiety disorder is diagnosed when the worry is so extreme it prevents you from living your life to the fullest. In addition to causing distress, it often gets in the way of being able to get things done because of the amount of time spent worrying. Seeking treatment for an anxiety disorder will actually help you be more productive, as well as happier and healthier.
Myth: Sometimes, when getting ready for a test or performance, I get very nervous. I have an anxiety disorder.
Fact: Everyone experiences stress and anxiety. A disorder is only diagnosed when the worry is extreme, irrational, excessive, causes great distress, or affects your life significantly.
The information on this page is a simple overview of a complicated health issue. For more in-depth information, please visit the references or speak to a medical professional.
Ontario – call ConnexOntario to find out where there are mental health supports in your community.
Crisis – in any situation where someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or a local crisis line.
Please see the Help Section for more information and resources.
Facts about mental health issues and illnesses. It is not meant to replace a doctor’s advice. Please consult a medical professional.