What are Anxiety Disorders?

Fight or flight! Almost everyone has heard of this essential reaction of the body. Anxiety, the subjective experience of the fight or flight response, is an entirely normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. When your fight or flight response is working correctly, it alerts you that there is danger without over-stressing the body. Danger is perceived and you either leave the situation as quickly as possible, or you stand your ground and fight. Once the danger is past, the body relaxes once again into its normal. When the fight or flight response isn’t working properly, an anxiety disorder can develop in which excessive feelings of fear, nervousness, and anxiety flare up when there is no discernible danger.

Anxiety disorders affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. In any given year the estimated percent of U.S. adults with some of the specific anxiety disorders are:
• 7-9% a specific phobia
• 7% social anxiety disorder
• 2-3% panic disorder
• 2% agoraphobia
• 2% generalized anxiety disorder
• 1-2% separation anxiety disorder.

Women are more likely than men to experience anxiety disorders. (Above data from the American Psychiatric Association)

Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms

Because the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders are so varied and imitate so many diseases, anxiety is often misdiagnosed. Anxiety symptoms can affect almost any area of the body.
The most common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

Common Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety:

• Excessive and irrational fear
• Excessive and irrational worry
• Always anticipating the worst
• Feeling tense and/or jumpy
• Inability to stay calm
• Irritability
• Nervousness
• General uneasiness
• Feelings of apprehension or dread
• Constantly watching for signs of danger
• Difficulty concentrating

Common Physical Symptoms of Anxiety:

• Sweating
• Dizziness
• Headaches
• Rapid heartbeat
• Stomach upset/diarrhea/nausea
• Frequent urination
• Shortness of breath
• Dry mouth
• Muscle tension or twitches
• Trembling
• Insomnia/issues with sleep
• Inability to be still
• Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet (Paresthesia)

This list of the most common symptoms of anxiety is by no means exhaustive. Anxiety manifests in hundreds of ways and combinations and is unique to the individual.
Since anxiety can manifest in many ways, there are several types of anxiety disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People suffering from generalized anxiety disorder feel excessive, persistent worry with little or no reason. This constant worry interferes with daily activities and can have a negative impact on personal relationships. With generalized anxiety disorder, everyday life is overwhelming and often exhausting.

Panic Disorder

Those diagnosed with panic disorder experience recurrent panic attacks. During a panic attack, the intensity of anxiety disorder symptoms is heightened for a short period of time – usually 10 minutes or less. The intensity of the symptoms during a panic attack can be so extreme that people believe they are having a heart attack or other life-threatening issues.
Common symptoms of a panic attack include:

• Surges of overwhelming panic and/or terror
• Heart palpitations or chest pain
• Sweating
• Trembling or shaking
• Difficulty breathing or hyperventilation
• Choking sensation
• Nausea or upset stomach
• Feeling dizzy, faint, or lightheaded
• Hot flashes or chills
• Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
• Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
• Fear of dying

Phobias, Specific Phobia, and Irrational Fear

A specific phobia is an intense and persistent fear of a specific object, situation or activity that is generally not harmful. Those with phobias often know that their distress is disproportionate, but they still cannot overcome it. People suffering from a phobia will go to extremes to avoid whatever frightens them.
One common phobia caused by anxiety which greatly interferes with normal activities is agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is the fear of being outdoors or of being in a situation from which one either cannot escape or from which escaping would be difficult or embarrassing.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Everyday social situations and interactions are a landmine for people with social anxiety disorder. Those suffering from this disorder are preoccupied with the possibility of being embarrassed, ridiculed, judged, or rejected in social situations. As a result of this fear, they avoid social situations and often miss out on connecting with friends and family.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

A person with separation anxiety disorder experiences excessive fear of losing the person they are closest to. They are extremely anxious when separated from the people to whom they are attached and may refuse to be separated from the people who are the focus of their attachment. These extreme feelings of anxiety and fear last beyond established norms for children (4 weeks) and adults (6 months).

Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder

A substance-induced anxiety disorder is directly caused by the effects of an ingested substance. Symptoms can result directly from the intoxication or may be due to withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, caffeine, and related substances.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event or learning that a traumatic event has happened to a loved one. PTSD is most often associated with veterans and wartime involvement, but there are many experiences that can cause PTSD.

What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Sadness is a part of life. Occasional feelings of melancholy, listlessness, or ‘the blues’ are just a few of the many feelings we experience as healthy individuals in response to our world. Clinical depression, however, is different, and is considered a serious mental health condition. A Major Depressive episode is defined by an incessant feeling of intense sadness and lack of interest in formerly enjoyable activities that goes on for an extended period. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) impacts both mood and behavior. People with Major Depressive Disorder often have trouble performing and participating in everyday activities and sometimes feel as if life isn’t worth living.

Major Depression is surprisingly common. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that the lifetime incidence of depression in the United States is more than 20-26% for women and 8-12% for men.

The median age for the onset of clinical depression is 32 (U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics, 2005).


Types of Depressive Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Depression directly caused by the time of the year. It occurs most often in the winter months when sunlight is not as readily available, typically going away in the spring and summer.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Depression that lasts for two years or longer.

Psychotic Depression

Depression accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia

Postpartum Depression

Depression that develops in the weeks or months after childbirth.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Depression experienced by women prior to the start of each period. Other symptoms can include fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, change in appetite, change in sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed.


Situational Depression

Usually a short-term, stress-related type of depression that develops in response to a traumatic event. Common events that can trigger situational depression include the death of a loved one, divorce, and illness. Situational depression is also called ‘stress response syndrome’.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

To be diagnosed with major depression, you must be suffering from five or more of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer, and at least one of the symptoms must be loss of interest in activities or a depressed mood. Symptoms may vary depending on what kind of depression has been diagnosed.

•Feelings of sadness and/or irritability
•Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
•Significant change in weight (loss or gain)
•Changes in sleep patterns – trouble falling asleep, insomnia, or the need to sleep more than usual
•Feeling and appearing restless and agitated or slowed down
•Fatigue or loss of energy
•Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
•Inability to focus/difficulty in thinking
•Thoughts of death or about suicide

(Adapted from DSMV)