What is an anxiety disorder?
Experiencing a little anxiety at times is perfectly normal, for example if you are about to sit an important exam or make a public speech. However, for some people they will experience anxiety more frequently and persistently, or in response to otherwise everyday or benign circumstances.
Anxiety disorders are often described as disorders which have both emotional and fear related states. These two emotional states have many similar and dissimilar features: fear causes surges of arousal preparing the body for the ‘fight or flight’ response and escape behaviours, while anxiety is associated with muscle tension and vigilance in preparation for future danger and avoidant behaviour.
The different kinds of anxiety disorder are characterised by the differing types of feared objects or situations; the kinds of resulting anxious or avoidant behavioural response; and the sorts of associated thought patterns.
The type of anxiety experienced as ‘disordered’ is also different from normal and adaptive fear and anxiety, in that it tends to be excessive, persistent, disproportionate, and not easily controlled.
The signs and symptoms of anxiety are not always obvious as they often develop slowly over a long period of time. As most people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life, it can also be quite difficult to determine how much anxiety has become too much anxiety. An acceptable or normal amount of anxiety tends to be explained and understood when connected to a stressful situation or event – such as an exam or job interview. Whereas for someone who is experiencing an anxiety disorder the symptoms are more frequent, intense and not connected to an obvious situation or life challenge, and will begin to impact on daily functioning.
Each anxiety disorder is characterized by a particular range of symptoms, however, some common features:
- Physical – hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tight feeling in the chest, feeling tense, wound up and edgy.
- Psychological – excessive fear, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking.
- Behavioural – avoiding situations which make you feel worried or anxious which can impact of work, study or social engagement.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
- Generalised anxiety disorders
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific types of phobias
- Panic disorders
- Anxiety disorders specific to children
- Separation anxiety disorders
- Selective mutism
When looking to overcome an anxiety disorder the treatment will be tailored specifically to the type of anxiety disorder and the nature of the symptoms. For mild types of anxiety, lifestyle changes and reducing stress-levels could be helpful. For moderate and severe anxiety, psychological and/or medical treatments may be beneficial.
Working with a trained therapist they may be beneficial the psychological treatments may help to change your thinking patterns to assist in reducing the anxiety and irrational worry.
Prevalence and outcomes
Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found that approximately 1 in 7 people within Australia have symptoms which are consistent with an anxiety disorder. If left untreated the symptoms will often persist, placing an individual at risk of developing depression or another condition. However, treatment outcomes are very positive when actively engaged in treatment.
American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Task Force, & American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
Emmelkamp, P. M. G., & Ehring, T. (2014). The wiley handbook of anxiety disorders. Malden, MA;Chichester, West Sussex;: Wiley-Blackwell.