Anxiety & Stress-Related Disorders

Introduction

Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, worry, or unease that is a normal human experience.

It is also present in a wide range of psychiatric disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias.

Although each of these disorders is different, they all feature distress and dysfunction specifically related to anxiety and fear.

  • In addition to anxiety, individuals often also have physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and/or tremor.
  • Anxiety disorders often substantially change an individual’s daily behaviour, including leading them to avoid certain things and situations.
  • These disorders are diagnosed using specific established criteria.
  • Drugs, psychotherapy, or both can substantially help most individuals.

Anxiety is a normal response to a threat or to psychologic stress. Normal anxiety has its root in fear and serves an important survival function. When an individual is faced with a dangerous situation, anxiety triggers the fight-or-flight response.

With this response, a variety of physical changes, such as increased blood flow to the heart and muscles, provide the body with the necessary energy and strength to deal with life-threatening situations, such as running from an aggressive animal or fighting off an attacker.

However, anxiety is considered a disorder when it

  • Occurs at inappropriate times;
  • Occurs frequently; and/or
  • Is so intense and long-lasting that it interferes with the individual’s normal activities.

Anxiety disorders are more common than any other category of mental health disorder and affect about 15% of adults in the United States.

Significant anxiety can persist for years and begin to feel normal to the individual with the anxiety.

For this and other reasons, anxiety disorders are often not diagnosed or treated.

Anxiety disorders include

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD);
  • Panic attacks and panic disorder; and
  • Specific phobic disorders.

What about Trauma- and Stress-related Disorders?

The mental distress that occurs immediately or shortly after experiencing or witnessing an overwhelming traumatic event is no longer classified as an anxiety disorder.

Such disorders are now classified as trauma- and stress-related disorders and include:

  • Acute stress disorder (ASD); and
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Types of Anxiety- and Stress-Related Disorders

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