Anxiety is a state of mind and body related to apprehension, fear, and terror. Typical symptoms involve intense worry or obsessions, pounding heart, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pains, dread, chills, impending doom, compulsions, procrastination, or avoidance of people, places, or specific situations or objects.
Anxiety can be broken into different domains. There is a cognitive component that may include thoughts like, “What if this catastrophe happens?” “Uncertainty is unbearable.” “I really have to know.” “I can’t take this any longer.” “I couldn’t stand it if that were to occur?” There is a physiological or somatic component, which involves physical or bodily reactions and experiences, such as “butterflies in the stomach,” nausea, shakiness, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, urgency, perspiration, muscle tension, etc. There may be “urges” to act (a.k.a. action tendencies) or actual behaviors, e.g., escape, avoidance, or “freezing” behaviors.
The American Psychiatric Association includes Anxiety Disorders as a class of syndromes that are diagnosable by mental health professionals. According to the DSM-IV-TR, there are 12 anxiety disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, Specific Phobia, and Social Phobia are the primary forms.
There is a great deal of evidence that anxiety disorders have a genetic component. The evidence suggests a predisposition which is typically expressed as a function of exposure to certain situations and consequences, i.e., anxiety can be learned. But some of us are more likely to learn these anxious lessons than others.
Anxiety disorders, unlike many mental illnesses, are effectively treated by various cognitive-behavior therapies (CBT). Effective techniques include exposure plus response prevention (flooding), systematic desensitization, problem solving, and cognitive restructuring. However, if left untreated or if inappropriate treatments are provided or if the techniques are used improperly symptoms can remain or even be made worse by the intervention. Therefore it is important to find a clinician expert in the application of the appropriate treatments.