Anxiety Disorders - A Brief Survey of Abnormal Psychology - Definitions

Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World - Andrea Bonior 2016

Anxiety Disorders
A Brief Survey of Abnormal Psychology


US prevalence 2.5 percent among adults


Someone who suffers from panic disorder (as opposed to specific phobias) has unexpected panic attacks. There is no particular known trigger, which makes the attacks feel even more scarily out of the person’s control, to the point where a panic attack itself becomes something to be afraid of. Perhaps the person fears the results of the attack and the embarrassment or safety implications that it will have: What if I have a panic attack in the middle of a board meeting or while driving on the freeway? Or maybe the person worries that a panic attack will endanger physical well-being, cause a loss of control, or lead to actually going crazy. A panic attack involves a series of physiological and psychological symptoms that come on rather abruptly and are felt for what is usually a brief period—most panic attacks subside after 15 minutes or so—but the experience is intensely negative in spite of its brevity. Anyone who has had a panic attack can pinpoint the starting and end points pretty well—it is not a diffuse feeling. Heart palpitations, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, hot flashes, a sense of going crazy, a fear of dying, and a sense of being outside oneself are among the most common symptoms of a panic attack. Keep in mind that a person can also feel some of the same physical symptoms during pleasurable activity, such as riding a roller coaster or getting a good workout. It is the context of the symptoms that matters. In a panic attack, the feelings are intensely negative and unwanted, and in panic disorder, they lead to daily fear of their recurrence.


US prevalence 8 percent among adults


Specific phobias—for example, those involving fear of animals or insects, of the natural environment (storms; open water), and of particular locations (small or crowded spaces; airplanes), and those involving fear of blood, injury, and injections (the latter group seems to have a strong genetic basis)—are among the most straightforward and easily treatable psychological disorders. As its name suggests, a specific phobia involves recurrent panic attacks triggered by a specific situation or object. These panic attacks usually lead to avoidance of the trigger, to the point where the avoidant behavior gets in the way of everyday life. The panic is out of proportion to any actual danger presented by the trigger, and when the phobia is severe enough, even hearing the name or seeing a picture of the feared object or situation can lead to anxiety.


US prevalence 7 percent among adults


This disorder is not the same thing as being introverted, and it’s more extreme than being shy. Having social anxiety disorder means having the experience of distress and debilitating anxiety in a social situation. It could be public speaking or small talk or (for some people with a specific subtype) a performance situation like participating in a sport or playing music. Social anxiety can often turn into a full-fledged panic attack, and the idea of being negatively evaluated fuels the fire. People with social anxiety disorder would love to feel normal in social interactions and not have to avoid them (or endure them with such great distress), but negative thoughts and physical anxiety create a cycle of fear and apprehension that gets in the way of their experiencing life as they want to.


US prevalence 2.9 percent among adults


Unlike the previously mentioned anxiety disorders, people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) might not experience any panic attacks at all. But their overall level of anxiety is always high, and their worries encompass not just dogs or parties or having a panic attack but several different areas of their lives. People with GAD are also affected in a physical way, often experiencing sleep problems, chronic muscle tension, and—though this seems counter-intuitive—fatigue (since their bodies and minds are constantly on high alert). They find it very difficult to control or contain their worry, and it starts to have an abnormally significant impact on their daily lives.