Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment. It has physical and emotional effects on us that can cause both positive and negative feelings. It is also something that makes demands on us for physical or cognitive productivity, in other words, anything that makes us think or act differently than we expect to or want to such as a near-miss car accident or a deadline at work. Stress can be caused by both positive and negative events such as getting married, the birth of a child, buying a house or starting a business, disappointment, failure, threat, embarrassment, death of loved ones, financial trouble and illnesses. Stress can cause a multitude of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms.
Fortunately for most of us, physical danger is rare. Instead, we are faced with problems and stress that complicate our lives. Today’s problems pose a different kind of threat such as losing a job, divorce, or our children failing in school.
These may be threats to our well-being, but have more of a psychological than a physical impact. These psychological threats can trigger anxiety. Normal anxiety is not a sign of a psychological disturbance; it helps us manage our lives by alerting us to problems requiring a response. Anxiety disorders develop when the level of anxiety becomes severe, even in response to every day common problems, or when the anxiety never goes away, and actually interferes with ordinary problem solving and functioning.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which unexpected panic attacks occur repeatedly, and not due to a substance or another psychological disorder or phobia. A panic attack consists of extreme anxiety. There may be physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, trembling, dizziness, nausea, sweating, hot flashes, or numbness. Often, there are chest pains which cause the person to believe a heart attack is taking place. There may be a feeling of unreality, or being detached from oneself.
Social anxiety is a persistent fear of social situations and embarrassment such as giving a speech or mixing at a party. Social anxiety, in extreme cases, may sometimes develop into a panic attack. People with social anxiety cannot control their fears even though they realize that they are exaggerated or even unwarranted. Many people may experience social anxiety to some degree, but when social anxiety interferes with a person’s normal activities, then treatment becomes necessary.
General Anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when a person has chronic anxiety, including excessive worrying over a period of at least six months. The person may feel a sense of restlessness, tension and tiredness, with difficulty sleeping. Lack of concentration and excessive irritability are signs of GAD. Many persons with this form of anxiety may experience panic attacks in response to more severe stress.
Agoraphobia is the feeling of intense anxiety when a person feels he or she is in a place where they cannot escape easily. Persons who have had panic attacks in the past often worry about having another attack in a public place where they cannot seek refuge easily and get help. This fear causes them to confine themselves to what they consider safe or familiar surroundings, and will only venture out to a few secure locations, such as their home, work, and the homes of close friends or relatives.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which the person suffers from disturbing and intrusive thoughts and engages in compulsive behaviors (checking, hand washing, counting, repetitive statements) to relieve anxiety or fear caused by the intrusive thoughts.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after an individual has survived a traumatic event in which they feared their life was in danger. Among other symptoms, PTSD involves extreme anxiety, avoidance of memories of the traumatic event, and reexperiencing or reliving the traumatic event.