Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful or dangerous situation. In this kind of situation, the body reacts causing the heart to beat faster, the palms to sweat, and the mind to race. These are normal responses to stress and fear.
With an anxiety disorder, your body reacts in the same manner as described above (i.e., racing heart, extreme worry, sweaty palms, etc.) but to a situation which isn’t dangerous or stressful, often for no known reason. If you have an anxiety disorder you can’t stop yourself from feeling afraid or anxious even though you know there’s nothing to be really worried about.
Once you’ve experienced this kind of anxiety, you may avoid whatever you believe triggered the feeling or the place where it happened. You may also develop compulsive behaviours to try and control it from happening again. For these reasons, having an anxiety disorder can interfere with your ability to socialize or to maintain relationships and can have a negative impact on your performance at school or at work.
“The most difficult part of living with someone with an anxiety disorder is not knowing when it’s going to happen again. You can be living happily and think it’s a thing of the past and then something that you don’t even notice can set it off, or nothing at all will set it off. It’s frightening. I got panicky knowing he was getting panicky.” – Mary, 41
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable anxiety and worry about everyday events or activities, most days for a period of at least six months, with associated physical symptoms such as irritability and sleep disturbance.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by flashbacks (re-experiencing a traumatic event), persistent avoidance of people and places that remind one of the event, and increased arousal such as difficulty concentrating, anger and jumpiness.
Social phobia is when individuals experience excessive fear in social situations where they believe they are going to be judged negatively or make a fool of themselves. This kind of phobia can interfere with their relationships, school and work performance.
Specific phobias are characterized by an excessive and persistent fear of specific objects or situations that present little or no actual danger (such as flying, heights and/or animals).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by repeated, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). These thoughts may be unrelated to what the person is currently doing, and are often unpleasant, violent or frightening to the person. Some people engage in compulsive behaviours or rituals in an attempt to control these negative thoughts. Rituals include counting or arranging objects and repeated and frequent checking or hand washing.
Panic disorder involves the presence of recurrent, unexpected attacks of anxiety, followed by at least 1 month of persistent concern about having additional attacks. Included is worry about the implication of the attack or its consequences, or a significant change in behaviour related to the attacks. The essential feature of a panic attack is a period of intense fear or discomfort which can be accompanied by physical symptoms.
“I’m not sure what came first, my anxiety or my depression. I think it was my anxiety. I would get anxious about all the things going on in my life and it would trigger a depression in me. I became reclusive; I didn’t want to deal with anything because I just didn’t feel like I could cope.” – Phillip, 18
Sign and symptoms of panic disorder include:
An anxiety disorder is a treatable medical illness; it’s not something you can just talk yourself out of, anymore than you can talk yourself out of having diabetes or heart disease.
It’s important that your doctor rules out any other physical illness before a diagnosis of anxiety disorder is made. Because of the intense physical symptoms associated with a panic attack, they are often confused with heart attacks, brain tumors or other physiological symptoms or conditions.
It’s possible to have an anxiety disorder and another mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder. Dealing with two mood disorders at once can make coping more difficult. It’s important that both disorders are addressed in treatment.
Most anxiety disorders can be successfully treated. Currently, the most effective approaches for anxiety disorders include medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. Treatment choice will depend on the type of anxiety disorder diagnosed, as well as any co-existing illnesses, such as depression or substance abuse. Generally, a combination of treatments is used to treat an anxiety disorder.
For a list of places where you can get treatment and/or find a doctor, click here.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can learn more about your choices and figure out which treatments might be best for you. To learn more click here.
1. Anxiety Disorders by Paul Caldwell. Key Porter Books, 2005. (Recommended by the Canadian Medical Association)
2. Conquering Panic and Anxiety Disorders by Jenna Glatzer, ed. Hunter House, 2002
3. From Panic to Power by Lucinda Bassett. Midwest Centre for Stress and Anxiety, 1995
4. Triumph Over Fear by Jerilyn Ross. Bantam Books, 1994
1. An End to Panic: Breakthrough Techniques for Overcoming Panic Disorder (2 nd edition) by Elke Zuercher-White. New Harbinger Publications, 1998
2. Mind Over Mood: A Cognitive Therapy Treatment for Clients by Dennis Greenburg and Christine Padensky . Guilford Publications, 1995
3. OCD Workbook (2nd edition) by Bruce M. Hyman . New Harbinger Publications, 2005
4. The Feeling Good Handbook by D. D. Burns. Revised Edition, Plume, 1999
5. The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin Anthony and Richard Swinson. New Harbinger Publications, 2000
This site offers an anxiety screen and a free online 12-session CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) course.