Anxiety disorder is the most complex and mysterious disorder.

  • Have you ever experienced anxiety?
  • Do you feel anxious when you have an exam or test?
  • I feel anxious going to a hospital for a checkup?
  • My friend experiences anxiety visiting his dentist?
  • My student reports anxiety related to attempting his sick mother at an intensive care unit.

What is anxiety?


Anxiety is a mood-state, characterized by marked negative affect, bodily symptoms of tension, restlessness and apprehension about future.

Anxiety is very hard to study. It appears as a sense of uneasiness, looking worried and anxious. The psychological response of anxiety is reflected in increased heart beat and muscle tension.

Anxiety is not pleasant, it is some unpleasant thing, usually students say they can do well on test if they have no examination anxiety.

Moderate amount of anxiety is needed for optimal performance of people. Moderate anxiety creates a feeling of preparation in people. So, anxiety is future oriented mood state. So, when a student says that I better study hard for my examination, so as to respond adequately to difficult questions of the exam.

Is it that anxiety, fear and panic are the same phenomena? So, let us explore.

Anxiety, fear and panic

Anxiety is a mood state characterized by negative emotion, tension and apprehension of future.

Fear is an immediate alarm reaction to danger. It protects us by activation a massive response.

In fear there is an increased heartbeat, blood pressure and subjective feeling of escape of an individual from danger or terror, so either flight from or to fight the enemy. In fear an individual has fight-flight response or reaction situation.

Panic is an abrupt experience of intense fear or acute discomfort accompanied by physical symptoms of heart palpitation, chest pains, shortness of breath and dizziness.

3 basic types of panic attacks:

  1. Situationally bound: when you know you are afraid of high places or afraid or driving over long bridges you have situationally panic disorder (cued).
  2. Unexpected: you may experience an unexpected panic attack (uncued).
  3. Situationally predisposed: you are more likely to have a panic attack when you had before. Both 1 and 2 are included.

Panic and anxiety combine to form different anxiety disorders:

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  2. Panic with agoraphobia
  3. Specific phobia
  4. Social phobia
  5. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  6. Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD) 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is unfocused, prolonged anxiety and worry. Anxiety is about minor every day events. Genetics and psychological factors are responsible for GAD.

Panic with agoraphobia

It is fear and avoidance of situations considered to be unsafe. Anxiety is focused on next panic attack.  Agoraphobia is marketplace or public place phobia.

Specific phobia

In specific phobia a person avoids specific situations that produce severe anxiety or panic.

Social phobia

Social phobia is fear of being around with others, particularly to be in situations that call for some kind of performance in front of other people, example: meeting strangers in park.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

It focuses on avoiding thoughts or images of some past traumatic experiences. The PTSD is a traumatic experience and the intensity of the experience seems to be a factor in development. Example, the 8th October 2005, earthquake affectees of our country shows symptoms of PTSD.

Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD)

It focuses on avoiding frightening or intrusive thoughts (obsessive).

Leading to ritualistic behaviors (compulsions).

Washing hands and checking of locks again and again, etc.

Factors which influence development of anxiety disorders:

  • Biological factors
  • Behavioral factors
  • Social factors
  • Emotional and cognitive factors

Treatments of anxiety disorders:

  • Drug therapy (medication)
  • Cognitive therapies (REBT etc.)
  • Other treatments

Bodily symptoms:

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Uneasiness/uncomfortable
  • Distorted thinking

Taken together, the various forms of anxiety disorders – including phobias, obsessions, compulsions and extreme worry – represent the most common type of abnormal behavior. Anxiety disorders share several important similarities with mood disorders. From a descriptive point of view, both categories are defined in terms of negative emotional responses.

Stressful life events seem to play a role in the onset of both depression and anxiety. Cognitive factors are also important in both types of problems.

From a biological point of view, certain brain regions and a number of neurotransmitters are involved in the etiology of anxiety disorders as well as mood disorders.

In contrast to fear, anxiety involves a more general or diffuses emotional reaction – beyond simple fear – that is out of proportion to threats from the environment.


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