There are several major types of anxiety disorders, each with its own characteristics.

  • People with generalized anxiety disorder have recurring fears or worries, such as about health or finances, and they often have a persistent sense  that something bad is just about to happen. The reason for the intense  feelings of anxiety may be difficult to identify. But the fears and  worries are very real and often keep individuals from concentrating on  daily tasks.
  • Panic disorder involves sudden, intense and  unprovoked feelings of terror and dread. People who suffer from this  disorder generally develop strong fears about when and where their next  panic attack will occur, and they often restrict their activities as a  result.
  • A related disorder involves phobias, or intense  fears, about certain objects or situations. Specific phobias may involve things such as encountering certain animals or flying in airplanes,  while social phobias involve fear of social settings or public places.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by persistent, uncontrollable and unwanted  feelings or thoughts (obsessions) and routines or rituals (compulsions)  in which individuals engage to try to prevent or rid themselves of these thoughts. Examples of common compulsions include washing hands or  cleaning house excessively for fear of germs, or checking work  repeatedly for errors.
  • Someone who suffers severe  physical or emotional trauma such as from a natural disaster or serious  accident or crime may experience post-traumatic stress disorder.  Thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns become seriously affected by  reminders of the event, sometimes months or even years after the  traumatic experience.

Symptoms such as extreme fear,  shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, insomnia, nausea, trembling and  dizziness are common in these anxiety disorders. Although they may begin at any time, anxiety disorders often surface in adolescence or early  adulthood. There is some evidence that anxiety disorders run in  families; genes as well as early learning experiences within families  seem to make some people more likely than others to experience these  disorders.

Are there effective treatments available for anxiety, panic and traumatic disorders?

Absolutely. Most cases of anxiety disorder can be treated successfully by  appropriately trained mental health professionals such as licensed  psychologists. Research has demonstrated that a form of psychotherapy  known as “cognitive-behavioral therapy” (CBT) can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders. Psychologists use CBT to help people  identify and learn to manage the factors that contribute to their  anxiety.

Behavioral therapy involves using techniques to reduce or stop the undesired behaviors associated with these disorders. For  example, one approach involves training patients in relaxation and deep  breathing techniques to counteract the agitation and rapid, shallow  breathing that accompany certain anxiety disorders.

Through  cognitive therapy, patients learn to understand how their thoughts  contribute to the symptoms of anxiety disorders, and how to change those thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence and the  intensity of reaction. The patient’s increased cognitive awareness is  often combined with behavioral techniques to help the individual  gradually confront and tolerate fearful situations in a controlled, safe environment.