Everyone feels anxiety or panic at one time or another. Anxiety and panic are natural responses that help us cope with danger or threats. But when anxiety or panic occurs at levels out of proportion to the danger, or when they have an adverse affect on daily living, there may be an anxiety or panic disorder. Those who suffer from these disorders often find it difficult to be in situations that most people consider routine – for example, driving, shopping, attending a party or just walking down a crowded sidewalk.
Here are some common terms and definitions associated with anxiety and panic disorders:
- A Panic Attack is a sudden rush of intense fear or anxiety. Physical symptoms may include rapid heartbeat, dizziness, difficulty breathing and/or sweating.
- Panic Disorder includes frequent occurrence of panic attacks and excessive worry about having panic attacks.
- Agoraphobia is the persistent avoidance of situations that could trigger panic attacks. Common examples include avoiding crowds, driving, shopping, being alone or being far from home or a hospital.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder involves excessive worrying. Other symptoms include muscle tension, restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating and the feeling of being keyed up or on edge.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder may develop and persist after a person experiences a severe trauma such as a serious accident, physical assault or combat. Symptoms may include nervousness, withdrawal, insomnia, reliving the event repeatedly through dreams or flashbacks and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is when a person has recurrent, distressing thoughts or ritualized behavior such as excessive hand washing. People with obsessive-compulsive disorders are often aware that the behavior is unreasonable.
- Specific Phobia is the exaggerated fear of a specific situation or objects. Even though a person may recognize that his or her fear is excessive, the situation or object is still avoided. Common phobias include the fear of dogs, flying, heights, blood or injections.
- Social Phobia is the excessive fear of being observed by, criticized or embarrassed in front of others. People with social phobias exhibit excessive dread and try to avoid situations such as public speaking, eating in front of others and going to parties.
If you or someone you love exhibits any of these symptoms and or issues, contact The Family Institute’s Anxiety & Treatment Program for help. This program studies, diagnoses and treats anxiety and panic disorders and is a joint program of Northwestern University’s Department of Psychology and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Clients are seen at The Family Institute offices in Evanston and downtown Chicago.