Do you consider yourself a worrier? Do you get nervous more than other people you know? Do you find yourself avoiding or staying away from places that other people are usually okay with? Do you feel uncomfortable or fearful around certain situations? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem affecting all ages and communities. Approximately 12<>percentage<> of the population suffers from anxiety (1 in 10 adults) and some studies have found that up to 20<>percentage<> of the population has difficulty with anxiety. These statistics show that if you are struggling with anxiety you are not alone.

Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. Most people will experience some anxiety at different times in their life. For example, it is normal to feel nervous or tense before a test or presentation, waiting for medical test results, before a job interview or a first date. In fact, low level or occasional anxiety can be helpful in focusing out thoughts and mustering energy. However, in higher bouts, anxiety can be very upsetting and disruptive to the point, as anxiety sufferers report, it takes the fun out of life.

Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with a person's ability to sleep or otherwise function. Anxiety disorders affect how we feel and behave which may cause real physical symptoms. If feeling anxious or nervous causes problems for you at work, creates difficulties in your family life or social relationships, then you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder. The common signs of anxiety disorders include excessive worry and nervousness, avoidance of places, situations and/or thoughts. Common physical symptoms include muscle tension, racing heart, shortness of breath, upset stomach, and dizziness or lightheadedness.

There are six separate anxiety disorders with specific symptoms that affect adults;

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) refers to excessive and uncontrollable worry about daily life events and activities. People experiencing GAD may be considered “worry warts” as they usually feel they can’t stop the worry and tend to distress even when things are going well. Various physical symptoms associated with GAD include fatigue, sore muscles, sleep problems and concentration difficulties.

Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common among these disorders. People with social anxiety tend to feel quite nervous or uncomfortable in social situations; They suffer persistent, intense, chronic fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by one's own actions. This fear of embarrassment or rejection leads to avoidance of social situations and performance type encounters such as meeting new people, public speaking, or talking in a group. This restraint can make things worse, severely limiting social and professional lives and often resulting in isolation and depression.

Specific Phobia is related to an intense fear of specific situations or things such as needles, dental appointments, flying, elevators, and spiders, to name a few. When faced with their phobia, individuals will experience a wide range of emotions from mild to moderate anxiety to very severe panic or terror, accompanied by unpleasant physical symptoms. Phobias can interfere in a person’s life making it difficult to participate in social or occupational activities. Most people try to avoid the uncomfortable and often terrifying feelings associated with their phobia; however, in the long run avoidance is not the solution because it only makes the fear stronger.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after an individual has experienced or witnessed a major trauma. Most people will relive the traumatic experience through dreams or intrusive thoughts; they may feel jumpy and edgy, being easily startled. These effects will appear in the first 30 days following a trauma and will lessen with time. For other people, however, the effects of a trauma will worsen over time or they may occur long after the trauma. With PTSD, the symptoms are extremely distressing and individuals attempt to avoid these traumatic memories by avoiding people, places, and things that seem to trigger the memories. Some individuals are also likely to cope with their trauma by consuming alcohol, using drugs, gambling excessively, and getting involved in destructive behavior.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that affects about 1 to 2<>percentage<> of the population. People with OCD experience both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted or disturbing thoughts related to things such as germs, threats to self or loved ones, or disgusting mental images that cause anxiety. Compulsions are deliberate behaviors (washing, checking, ordering things) or mental acts (praying, counting, repeating phrases) to control or avoid the anxiety caused by the obsessions. Obsessions and compulsions are usually very distressing and time-consuming, interfering significantly in a person’s life.

Panic Disorder involves unexpected and repeated panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by symptoms such as pounding heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, chills or hot flashes, upset stomach, dizziness or lightheadedness, a sense of things being unreal or feeling detached from oneself, numbness or tingling sensations, fear of losing control or "going crazy", fear of dying and desire to escape. Having a panic attack does not mean you have panic disorder. Panic attacks are common and may occur if you are feeling very stressed and/or, overtired, or if you have been exercising excessively. With panic disorder, panic attacks are unexpected and reoccurring, leading to a fear of panic attacks and the belief that something bad will happen because of a panic attack (such as going crazy, losing control, or dying). Individuals with panic disorder will often change their behavior to feel safer and prevent future panic attacks, often finding themselves avoiding more and more situations until they are avoiding almost everything. This avoidance limits a person’s ability to live life in a normal manner.

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Psychological counseling and medications, and sometimes a combination of the two, have shown to be very effective in treating anxiety disorders. If you think you or a family member may have an anxiety disorder, you can contact you family doctor or mental health professional. There are many things you can do on your own to reduce anxiety symptoms and prevent anxiety disorders. These self-help strategies will be explained in future articles that focus on anxiety across the lifespan beginning with children and youth, and then focusing on adults and elderly individuals.

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