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Anxiety is a physiological state that creates feelings of extreme fear, worry or apprehension. Everyone experiences a certain amount of anxiety at one time or another in their lifetime. Behaviorally, it’s a normal emotion, along with anger, sadness or happiness and it plays a very important function in relation to personal survival. For example, if you were about to be attacked by a bear, your body would instinctively produce a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, breathing would become rapid and the resulting anxiety is what causes the “fight or flight” instinct needed to protect yourself. Sometimes, however, the perceived threat is illogical or irrational - there is no bear, but your body produces the “fight or flight” symptoms just the same. The body cannot distinguish between an actual situation or just the thought of a situation. To the body, a scary thought means “I am in danger.“ These feelings of perceived danger are very real to the person suffering from extreme anxiety. An anxiety attack is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, a pounding heart, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or dizziness, feelings of choking or smothering, tingling or numbness, shaking or trembling. If a person’s anxiety continues to rapidly escalate, it can build to a panic attack and they feel as if they are about to pass out or die. They often feel they are losing control and fear they are “going crazy.” Once the symptoms subside, it may cause the person to start to avoid certain social situations out of fear they will have another panic attack and embarrass themselves. Most people who experience panic attacks have a “safe place” or “safe person” whom they feel will save them if they panic. Millions of people in the United States suffer from chronic anxiety and an estimated three million have panic disorder. The two are very similar, except some people with chronic anxiety never have panic attacks.

Anxiety disorder is a term used to describe several different forms of abnormal fears, anxiety and phobias. A phobia is a kind of anxiety defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a “persistent or irrational fear.” Although the exact cause of anxiety disorder is not known, some research suggests a brain chemical imbalance, and certain genetic factors and environment may play a role. People with anxiety disorder will also often exhibit signs of clinical depression and vice-versa. It is important to remember that anxiety is a treatable condition - no one has ever died from a panic attack. Help is available through therapy, medication and/or lifestyle changes. For the person suffering from high anxiety, it is often most helpful just knowing they are not alone. The different classifications of anxiety disorder include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a common chronic disorder that affects twice as many women as men. As the name implies, GAD is characterized by long-lasting anxiety that is not focused on any particular object or situation. People with this disorder often feel afraid of something but are unable to articulate the specific fear. They often worry excessively about their own health or the health of a loved one. The intense anxiety and accompanying physical symptoms sometimes makes it difficult to cope with normal daily activities.

Panic Disorder:
In panic disorder, or panic attacks, a person suffers brief, intense terror and apprehension that can cause any of the physical symptoms mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article. The American Psychiatric Association defines a panic attack as “fear or discomfort that arises abruptly and peaks in 10 minutes or less, and can occasionally last hours.” Panic attacks sometimes occur out of nowhere, or they can happen after frightening experiences or prolonged stress. Many people who have panic attacks (especially their first one) think they are having a heart attack and often end up in the emergency room.

A common complication of panic disorder is agoraphobia. The definition of the word varies, but it generally refers to avoidance behaviors that sufferers often develop. If a sufferer of panic attacks seems to have them while driving, for example, then he or she may avoid driving, which relieves the anxiety, and subsequently makes future driving more difficult. Basically, the person will begin to avoid going anyplace where they fear having a panic attack. Some agoraphobics become completely housebound for a period of time.

Social Anxiety:
Social anxiety disorder is also known as social phobia. People with this anxiety disorder experience intense fear of being negatively evaluated by others or of being publicly embarrassed in a social setting. People with social anxiety will generally avoid parties, eating in restaurants and may even have difficulty in a work environment.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder which results from a traumatic experience, such as being involved in warfare, rape, hostage situations, or involvement in a serious accident. The sufferer may experience flashbacks, avoidance behavior or other symptoms.


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