Anxiety Disorders

“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  Arthur Somers Roche


“All too frequently, anxiety crushes not only your spirit and your potential, but your ability to take care of your mind and body”.  ~Jonathan Davidson and Henry Dreher,  The Anxiety Book: Developing Strength in the Face of Fear


As I would take the stage and face the crowd I could feel my heart beating out of my chest and hear a roaring in my ears. My knees would knock and I would feel hot all over.

Sound familiar? Many of us have experienced at one time or another in our lifetime the feelings of an anxiety attack such as sweating palms, palpitations, stomach aches or fainting in extreme cases.  These are all mild symptoms of anxiety attacks and usually will pass. When it continues to inhibit you or when it lasts for longer than 6 months it becomes an illness known as Anxiety Disorder which actually covers several different forms of abnormal and pathological fears and anxieties which are said to affect as many as 18% of Americans.

GAD, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, PTSD and Separation Disorder all fall under Anxiety disorders and can often be debilitating chronic conditions which can be present from an early age or begin suddenly after a triggering event. They are prone to be exacerbated by high stress and are often accompanied by physiological symptoms such as headache, sweating, muscle spasms, palpitations, and hypertension.

In clinical terms anxiety is defined as an unpleasant emotional state for which the cause is either not readily identified or perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable, whereas fear is an emotional and physiological response to a recognized external threat.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a condition characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people most people experience. People with GAD usually expect the worst. They worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even when there are no signs of trouble. They are unable to relax and often suffer from insomnia. Sometimes the source of worry is hard to pinpoint. Simply the thought of getting through the day provokes anxiety. Many people with GAD also have physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, irritability or hot flashes. People with GAD may feel light-headed or out of breath. They also may feel nauseated or have to go to the bathroom frequently. Nearly 3% of the adult US population age 18 to 54 has GAD during the course of a given year. GAD most often strikes in childhood or adolescence, but can also begin in adulthood. It affects women more often than men, may run in families and may also grow worse with stress. GAD often coexists with depression, substance abuse and other anxiety disorders. Irritable bowel syndrome often accompanies GAD. Treatment for GAD includes medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Panic disorders cause the person to suffer from brief intense attacks of terror or apprehension, often marked by trembling, shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty breathing. The APA defines panic attacks as fear or discomfort that abruptly arises and peaks in less than ten minutes, can least for several hours and can be triggered by stress, fear, or even exercises; although specific causes are not always apparent. What creates the disorder is the chronic worry over the attack’s potential implications, persistent fear of future attacks, or significant changes in behavior related to the attacks. Those who suffer from panic disorder experience symptoms even outside of specific panic episodes. Often normal changes in heartbeat are noticed by the panic sufferer and they believe there is something wrong with their heart or they are about to have another panic attack. In some cases, hyper-vigilance of body functioning occurs during panic attacks, whereby any perceived physiological change is interpreted as a possible life threatening illness.

Phobias are probably the most widely known of the anxiety disorders. We chuckle at Monk as TV’s phobic detective and most of us don’t like bugs, or snakes or spiders or even find clowns creepy but when taken to extreme becomes irrational, intense, persistent fear of certain situations, activities or people. The main symptom of the disorder is an excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. When the fear is out of one’s control, and if the fear is interfering with daily life, the fear becomes a phobia.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of disorder that is primarily characterized by repetitive obsessions (distressing, persistent, and obtrusive thoughts or images) and compulsions (urges to perform specific acts or rituals). The OCD though pattern may be likened to superstitions insofar as it involves a belief in a causative relationship where, in reality, one does not exist. Often the process is entirely illogical; for example, the compulsion of walking in a certain pattern may be employed to alleviate the obsession of impending harm. In many cases, the compulsion is entirely inexplicable, simply an urge to complete a ritual triggered by nervousness.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to one or more traumatic events that threatened or caused great physical harm such as rape, war, major accidents, or kidnapping/ car jacking. It is a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to an extreme psychological trauma. These stressors may involve someone’s actual death, a threat to the patient’s or someone else’s life, serious physical injury, an unwanted sexual act, or a threat to physical or psychological integrity, overwhelming psychological defenses.

PTSD is a more chronic and less frequent consequence of trauma than the normal acute stress response. Diagnostic symptoms include re-experiencing original trauma(s), through flashbacks or nightmares; avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma; and increased arousal, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. For a diagnosis of PTSD the DSM IV states it must last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important area of functioning.

Separation Anxiety is the feeling of excessive and inappropriate levels of anxiety over being separated from a person or place. Separation anxiety itself is a normal part of development in babies or children, and it is only when this feeling is excessive or inappropriate that it can be diagnosed as a disorder. Separation anxiety affects roughly 7% of adults and 4% of children, but the childhood cases tend to be more severe, in some instances even a brief separation can produce panic.

Images: m_bartosch/David Castillo Dominici/


Dr. Lewis Jordan has over 20 years experience in psychotherapy, counseling, education and public speaking. Dr. Lewis Jordan’s Psychotherapy ServicesFlorida therapy offices for Therapy & Neurofeedback Services are located in various locations throughout South Florida as well as offices in New York City and South Carolina.  Please click here for Dr. Lewis Jordan’s current Educational Videos

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Blessings to you.

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