What is Anxiety?

by in Anxiety, Dr. KC Kelly, Guest Posts, Kitchen Sink, Stress February 19, 2009

By KC Kelly, Ph.D., LMHC
headshot_for_nicoles_site1.jpgStress and anxiety are a natural part of everyday life and most of us experience it more often than not in today’s very stressful world. It is also very natural to worry about your hectic life from time to time. “Anxiety” is usually referred to as worry, concern, stress, or nervousness.

Believe it or not, anxious feelings can sometimes be a good thing. Having this heightened sense can actually help to motivate a person to prepare for a big test in school, speech at work, or by keeping a person on his/her toes in potentially dangerous situations, to name only a few examples. Occasional anxiety isn’t something to be concerned about.

However, if the worries, stress, or anxious feelings become overwhelming and you feel as though these feelings are getting in the way of your everyday quality of life, these may be signs that you may have an anxiety problem or disorder. Below are descriptions of the different anxiety disorders. Remember as you read, not to be frightened by the symptoms. An anxiety disorder is a serious condition, yes, but the good news is that it is also one of the most treatable emotional disorders!


Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 40 million American adults aged 16 years and older in a given year, causing them to be filled with overwhelming fearfulness and uncertainty. People usually experience anxiety about events they cannot control or predict, or about events that seem threatening or dangerous.

Sometimes people feel anxious without any known cause. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as an audition or performing in front of a live audience, anxiety disorders are chronic, relentless, and can grow progressively worse if not treated.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive thinking and dwelling on the “what ifs”. As a result, the person feels there is no way out of the vicious cycle of anxiety and worry, and then becomes depressed about life and the state of anxiety they feel. This is a relatively common anxiety problem, affecting about 6.8 million adult Americans.

Panic Disorder can leave people with feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly, many times, without warning. They can’t predict when an attack will occur, and many develop intense anxiety between episodes, worrying when and where the next one will strike.

You may genuinely believe you’re having a heart attack, losing your mind, or are on the verge of death. Unless you have a bad heart that has been officially diagnosed, anxiety CANNOT KILL YOU! Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults.

Agoraphobia develops when a person has such an intense fear of having a panic attack that they avoid going anywhere they think it could possibly occur. The fear of social embarrassment of having a panic attack or losing control in public often causing a person to become confined to their homes, experiencing difficulty traveling from their “safe place.”

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves anxious thoughts or rituals you feel you can’t control. If you have OCD, you may be plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (CPD) entails a cluster of characteristics of behavior marked by inflexibility in order to pursue perfectionism, orderliness, and control (DSM-IV). OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults.

PhotobucketPost-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that can develop following a terrifying event. Often, people with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people to whom they were once close. Whatever the source of the problem, some people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing recollections during the day.

They may also experience other sleep problems, feel detached or emotionally paralyzed, or be easily startled. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have trouble feeling affectionate. They may feel irritable, more aggressive than before, or even violent. Things that remind them of the trauma may be very distressing, which could lead them to avoid certain places or situations that bring back those memories. Anniversaries of the traumatic event are often very troubling times. PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults.

Social Phobia, also called Social Anxiety Disorder involves overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.

Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work or school, and other ordinary activities. While many people with social phobia recognize that their fear of being around people may be excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it. They often worry for days or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation. Social phobia affects about 15 million American adults.

Specific Phobia is an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Some of the more common specific phobias are centered around closed-in places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, dogs, clowns, and injuries involving blood. Such phobias aren’t just extreme fear; they are also irrational fears of particular things. Specific phobias affect an estimated 16.2 million adult Americans.

TREATMENT: Effective treatments for anxiety disorders are available, and research is yielding new, improved therapies that can help most people with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be very effective in treating an anxiety disorder.

If you think you may be suffering with any of these symptoms, or would just like to talk with a professional in a caring and completely confidential way, please visit www.DOCintheBiz.comwhere you will be able to email us for private and confidential help from your own home! You will never be made to leave your house or comfort zone. Write to us at your convenience!

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Statistical information reported on this page was obtained from The National Institute of Mental Health

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