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Several types of anxiety disorders

What is an anxiety disorder?

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in his or her life. People become nervous when they have to face a highly-stressful situation like taking a test, going for a job interview, or getting married.

When one is anxious and under stress, the body reacts: hands become clammy, the heart beats a little faster—one even can feel lightheaded or dizzy.

Some people, however, become preoccupied with fear and worry, and the intense feelings of anxiety continue. If this happens, an individual may have an anxiety disorder.

One-in-six Canadians is affected by an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can take the form of panic disorder, phobia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. And without treatment, an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health may be in jeopardy.

Anxiety disorders also can lead to alcohol and/or drug abuse, family problems, depression, and, in some cases, suicide.

What is obsessive compulsive disorder?

People with obsessive compulsive disorder experience unwanted thoughts that make no sense but nevertheless cause the individual to feel anxious.

Irrational thoughts may concern contaminating themselves or others with dirt or germs, or they may be obsessed about their own safety or the safety of a loved one.

In response to their obsessive thoughts, individuals may need to think neutralizing thoughts or to perform certain compulsive rituals, including repetitive hand-washing or counting.

As with phobias, a traumatic event can trigger obsessive thoughts or behaviour. People who are described as perfectionists, however, seem more prone than others to develop obsessions.

If untreated, this condition can result in severe impairment in many psychological areas, as well as affect relationships and life at school or work.

What are phobias?

A phobia is an irrational and uncontrollable fear of an object or a situation. It is unclear how phobias start, but if an individual is prone to excessive anxiety and stress, he or she is more likely to be vulnerable to panic attacks and phobias.

People with phobias experience feelings of intense panic when confronted by whatever it is that frightens them and go to considerable lengths to avoid the object or situation.

An individual with a phobia may experience the physical feelings of panic when confronted with the feared situation.

Types of phobias are:

•Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is fear of fear itself. Individuals develop agoraphobia out of the fear of a panic attack occurring in any situation where help is unavailable or escape difficult.

People with agoraphobia associate places or feelings as the cause of their panic attacks, so they try to avoid the place and/or situation they think is the cause.

People with agoraphobia become highly-dependent. This can be exhausting and frustrating for family members and friends. People with agoraphobia may confine themselves to their homes, become very worried about their health, abuse alcohol, or become suicidal.

The rate of attempted suicide for people with agoraphobia is about 20 percent.

Agoraphobia and depression are closely related.

•Social phobia

People with social phobias have had life experiences that render them hypersensitive to criticism and rejection. They have difficulty starting a conversation, asking questions, making friends, or joining groups.

The anxiety produced by a social phobia can be so intense that it provokes blushing, stammering, sweating, stomach upsets, a racing heart, and trembling limbs, or trigger a full-scale panic attack.

Social phobias are one of the most common psychiatric disorders, which may be associated with other conditions like depression, specific phobias (fear of spiders, heights, water, etc.), and agoraphobia.

•Specific phobia

People with a specific phobia experience anxiety only when confronted with the thing they most fear. Common fears are thunderstorms, heights, and certain animals like snakes and spiders.

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