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Anxiety Disorders: An Overview

I'm a worrier, and the problem is getting worse. I've heard people talk about "anxiety disorders," but I don't know what that means. How can I tell if my worry is normal or if I have an anxiety disorder? And what should I do?

Difference between normal worry and clinically defined anxiety

We all worry to some extent from time to time, but anxiety doesn’t usually become a serious problem. Most of us move through life without being noticeably held back or overwhelmed by fears about life’s difficulties and unknowns.

God gave us the capacity for fear to protect us. Fear is a good thing when it prepares us to fight or run away when we’re in danger. The problem is that our brains and bodies can sometimes act as if we’re facing an immediate threat even when we’re not. In those cases, fear can explode into uncontrollable dread and panic.

Some people’s lives are severely disrupted by fear and anxiety. Worry or fears about future uncertainties can become so overpowering that normal everyday functioning is affected. If you’re experiencing something like that, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with some form of anxiety disorder.

You’re not alone, though! An estimated 18 percent of adults in the United States deals with some kind of clinically defined anxiety disorder every year.

Kinds of anxiety disorders

There are many different clinically defined anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by feelings of restlessness, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate.
  • Panic Disorder includes sudden, terrifying, and often unexpected panic attacks.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is an intense, excessive, and persistent fear of being scrutinized or humiliated in social situations.
  • Agoraphobia is the dread of open or public spaces. (And there are a number of other specific phobias, such as acrophobia – the fear of heights.)

What about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? In the past, experts included OCD and PTSD with anxiety disorders. However, those two conditions are now in a separate classification.

Treating anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders can be managed well with a combination of medical, psychological, and spiritual care. If you feel that any of the conditions described above fit your situation, we encourage you to find professional help as soon as possible.

  • Medications can’t “cure” anxiety disorders, but they might relieve a person’s symptoms enough to let him or her function and respond to psychotherapy.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an especially helpful form of psychotherapy in treating anxiety disorders. CBT helps patients learn new ways to think about their experiences and circumstances, and how to recognize and change dysfunctional thought or behavior patterns.

Call us for help

If you’d like to speak at greater length with a member of our staff, don’t hesitate to call our licensed counselors for a free over-the-phone consultation. They’d be more than happy to talk with you about your concerns. And they can provide referrals to trained therapists in your area.

In the meantime, for more thoughts about anxiety disorders, you can look at our Counseling department’s information sheet “Anxiety Disorders: A Brief Overview.

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Anxiety Disorders: A Brief Overview

Focus on the Family’s Mental Health Webpage

Focus on the Family’s Mental Health Resource List

Grace for the Afflicted

The National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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