What is an Anxiety Disorder?



What is an anxiety disorder? Anxiety is a normal part of living. All of us know what it is like to feel worry, nervousness, fear, and concern. We feel nervous when we have to give a speech, go for a job interview, or walk into our boss’s office for the annual performance appraisal. We know it’s normal to feel a surge of fear when we unexpectedly see a photo of a snake or look down from the top of a tall building.


Most of us manage these kinds of anxious feelings fairly well and are able to carry on with our lives without much difficulty. These feelings don’t disrupt our lives.


But millions of people (an estimated 15% of the population) suffer from devastating and constant anxiety that severely affects their lives, sometimes resulting in living in highly restricted ways. These people experience panic attacks, phobias, extreme shyness, obsessive thoughts, and compulsive behaviors, types of anxiety disorders.


The feeling of anxiety is a constant and dominating force that is persistent and disrupts their lives. It may get in the way of day-to-day activities and even make them impossible. This may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.


The term “anxiety disorders” describes a group of conditions including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and specific phobias. So, what is an anxiety disorder then?


What is an Anxiety Disorder?

An anxiety disorder affects a person’s behavior, thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. The most common anxiety disorders include the following:


Social Anxiety or Social Phobia

Social anxiety of social phobia is a fear of being around other people. People who suffer from this disorder always feel self-conscious around others. They have the feeling that everyone is watching them and staring at them, being critical in some way. Because the anxiety is so painful, they learn to stay away from social situations and avoid other people. Some eventually need to be alone at all times, in a room with the door closed. The feeling is pervasive and constant.


People who have social anxiety know that their thoughts and fears are not rational. They are aware that others are not actually judging or evaluating them at every moment. But this knowledge does not make the feelings disappear.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a condition where a person has panic attacks without warning. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, about 5% of the adult American population suffers from panic attacks. Some experts say that this number is actually higher, since many people experience panic attacks but never receive treatment.


Common symptoms of panic include:

-Racing or pounding heart


-Sweaty palms

-Feelings of terror

-Chest pains or heaviness in the chest

-Dizziness and lightheadedness

-Fear of dying

-Fear of going crazy

-Fear of losing control

-Feeling unable to catch one’s breath

-Tingling in the hands, feet, legs, or arms


A panic attack typically lasts several minutes and is extremely upsetting and frightening. In some cases, panic attacks last longer than a few minutes or strike several times in a short time period.


A panic attack is often followed by feelings of depression and helplessness. Most people who have experienced panic say that the greatest fear is that the panic attack will happen again.

Are you struggling with anxiety? Take this anxiety test and find out.

Many times, the person who has a panic attack doesn’t know what caused it. It seems to have come “out of the blue.” At other times, people report that they were feeling extreme stress or had encountered difficult times and weren’t surprised that they had a panic attack.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is quite common, affecting an estimated 3 to 4% of the population. This disorder fills a person’s life with worry, anxiety, and fear. People who have this anxiety disorder are always thinking and dwelling on the “what ifs” of every situation. It feels like there is no way out of the vicious cycle of anxiety and worry. The person often becomes depressed about life and their inability to stop worrying.


People who have generalized anxiety usually do not avoid situations, and they don’t generally have panic attacks. They can become incapacitated by an inability to shut the mind off, and are overcome with feelings of worry, dread, fatigue, and a loss of interest in life. The person usually realizes these feelings are irrational, but the feelings are also very real. The person’s mood can change from day to day, or even hour to hour. Feelings of anxiety and mood swings become a pattern that severely disrupts the quality of life.


People with generalized anxiety disorder often have physical symptoms including headaches, irritability, frustration, trembling, and inability to concentrate, and sleep disturbances. They may also have symptoms of social phobia and panic disorder.


Other Types of Anxiety Disorders Include:

Phobia, fearing a specific object or situation.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a system of ritualized behaviors or obsessions that are driven by anxious thoughts.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe anxiety that is triggered by memories of a past traumatic experience.


Agoraphobia, disabling fear that prevents one from leaving home or another safe place.


Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders

Most people who suffer from anxiety disorders begin to feel better when they receive the proper treatment. Each person’s anxiety is caused by a unique set of factors though the symptoms may be similar. Generally, it’s a good idea to treat both, though reducing physical symptoms is a priority.


Some clients feel better after a few weeks or months of treatment, while other may need a year or more. If a person has an anxiety disorder in combination with another disorder (such as alcoholism and depression), treatment is more complicated and takes longer.


While a treatment plan must be specifically designed for each individual, there are a number of standard approaches, which our Houston, Tx counselors utilize.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

This is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. ACT uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility and reduce symptoms such as anxiety and depression.


Behavior Therapy

This type of therapy may be incorporated with another treatment approach and specifically addresses unwanted behaviors. Systematic desensitization, a type of behavior therapy, is often used to help people with phobias and OCD. The therapist will work closely with the client gradually increasing his or her tolerance to situations that have produced disabling anxiety.


Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness is a key component of all aspects of therapy and mental health. The mind is known to be a factor in stress and stress-related disorders, and meditation has been shown to positively effect a range of autonomic physiological processes, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing overall arousal and emotional reactivity.


Relaxation Training

Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from practicing relaxation techniques, guided visualization, and biofeedback. Relaxation training is often part of psychotherapy.



Antidepressant and antianxiety medications can help restore chemical imbalance that cause symptoms of anxiety. This can be an effective treatment for many people, especially in combination with psychotherapy.


The treatment for an anxiety disorder depends on the severity and length of the problem. When a person with panic is motivated to try new behaviors and practice new skills, he or she can learn to change the way the brain responds to familiar thoughts and feelings that have previously caused anxiety.


If you feel your anxiety may be more than the usual “worry”, help is available! Anxiety is very common and very treatable. You don’t have to face it alone.


Contact one of our counselors in Houston, TX for help with an anxiety disorder. Our therapists are available for face to face sessions as online therapy sessions in limited areas.

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Recommended Reading:


coping with stressThe Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Each chapter features a different method for relaxation and stress reduction, explains why the method works, and provides on-the-spot exercises you can do to apply that method when you feel stressed.


coping with stress

Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness

Revised and comprehensive, this invaluable guide helps you identify the specific areas of stress in your life–familial, work-related, social, emotional–and offers proven techniques for dealing with every one of them.


coping with stress

The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques: Understanding How Your Brain Makes You Anxious and What You Can Do to Change It

Everything from breathing techniques and mindful awareness to cognitive control and self-talk are included-all guaranteed to evict your anxious thoughts.


coping with stressEmotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life

Picture yourself trapped in a traffic jam feeling utterly calm. Imagine being unflappable and relaxed when your supervisor loses her temper. What if you were peaceful instead of anxious? What if your life were filled with nurturing relationships and a warm sense of belonging? This is what it feels like when you’ve achieved emotional freedom.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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