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Psychological Disorders

Anxiety Disorders and PTSD

Anxiety disorders involve intense worry or fear that is out of proportion to the actual level of threat.

Anxiety, the most common psychological disorder, affects about 19 percent of the population each year. Anxiety seriously interferes with normal social and occupational functioning. The constant stress produced by anxiety can create physical symptoms of illness, such as insomnia, stomach pain, or heart palpitations.

Generalized anxiety disorder involves chronic worry or a recurring feeling that something bad is about to happen. For example, a person may worry about their health, relationships, job security, children's well-being, global politics, and ability to pay the bills. To be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a person must worry more days than not for at least six months. Other symptoms include irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep disruption, fatigue, and muscle tension.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by emotional distress, disturbing thoughts, and behavior change that last more than a month after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, such as the experience of war, rape, assault, a natural disaster, or witnessing violence. Sometimes PTSD doesn't develop until months after the initial triggering event. Symptoms of PTSD must last more than one month because intense distress immediately following a trauma is common. Symptoms of PTSD can include reexperiencing the trauma in flashbacks or nightmares; feelings of alienation, anxiety, anger, or guilt; an increased sense of vulnerability; and problems with social relations.

A phobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. To count as a phobia, the fear must be out of proportion to the actual risk. Common phobias include fear of public speaking, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of spiders, fear of animals, and fear of flying. Some phobias are learned through conditioning and can be traced to a specific frightening event. For example, being attacked by a dog can lead to a fear of dogs. However, not all phobias have clear triggers. The potential to develop a phobia is influenced by genetic factors (anxiety may run in families) and environmental factors such as stress or parenting style.

Common Phobias

A phobia is an irrational fear of a situation or object that is out of proportion to the true level of risk. Common phobias include germs, snakes, heights, enclosed spaces, and spiders.
Panic disorder involves repeated, unexpected episodes of intense fear. These episodes include the physical arousal that occurs in fight-or-flight reactions to life-threatening situations but occur in the absence of threat. During panic attacks, people often feel like they are dying, suffocating, or having a heart attack. People with panic attacks can develop intense anxiety about future attacks. This anxiety often leads people to avoid places or activities that could trigger another attack. Panic disorder is strongly linked to agoraphobia, a fear of places where escape would be difficult or where help might not be available. People with panic disorder often develop agoraphobia because they are afraid of having a panic attack in public. They may confine themselves at home or go out only with a trusted companion. People with chronic panic disorder experience a decreased quality of life and may self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs.