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Watch+Learn: Anxiety Disorders

Most of us feel anxious from time to time. Few of us get through a week without something happening that makes us feel "on edge", tense, or worry that a situation isn't going to go so well. We may feel anxiety when we’re facing an important event like an upcoming exam or job interview, or when we perceive some threat or danger, such as waking to strange sounds in the night.


Anxiety is our natural alarm system that alerts us when we might be in danger. Everyday anxiety is generally occasional, relatively mild, and brief. But for a person with an anxiety disorder, anxiety is more frequent, more intense, and can last hours, or even days.

Click here to learn about the symptoms.

Risk Factors

Scientists tell us that a combination of factors may cause anxiety disorders:

  • Genetics. Research concludes that anxiety disorders “run in the family,” with some families experiencing a higher-than-average amount of anxiety disorders among relatives.

  • Environment. An extremely stressful or traumatic event or series of events such as abuse, the death of a loved one, violence or prolonged illness, is often linked to the development of an anxiety disorder.


Other medical conditions have symptoms similar to an anxiety disorder, including heart disease or hyperthyroidism. So, you need to see your regular physician for a physical and talk about your symptoms. Most likely, your doctor will also run some lab tests.


Assuming a physical condition is ruled out, you'll need to see a mental health professional for evaluation. A mental health professional wil use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to identify the specific type of anxiety disorder you have, as well any other possible underlying disorders, and recommend a comprehensive treatment is the best recovery strategy.


Anxiety disorders are generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. 


Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can help people with anxiety disorders. To be effective, psychotherapy must be directed at the person’s specific anxieties and tailored to his or her needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an example of one type of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches people different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects and situations. CBT can also help people learn and practice social skills, which is vital for treating social anxiety disorder.

Cognitive therapy and exposure therapy are two CBT methods that are often used, together or by themselves, to treat social anxiety disorder. Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying, challenging, and then neutralizing unhelpful or distorted thoughts underlying anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is sometimes used along with relaxation exercises and/or imagery.

CBT can be conducted individually or with a group of people who have similar difficulties. Often “homework” is assigned for participants to complete between sessions.


Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. Medication for anxiety is prescribed by doctors, such as a psychiatrist or primary care provider. Some states also allow psychologists who have received specialized training to prescribe psychiatric medications. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are anti-anxiety drugs (such as benzodiazepines), antidepressants, and beta-blockers.

Want to learn more? 

Here are some downloadable articles and white papers you might like:

Anxiety Disorders: An Information Guide

A guide for people with anxiety and their families / Neil A. Rector 

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada

What is Anxiety? 

An explanation of how anxiety works , facts, and myth busters

Anxiety Canada



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Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work. 


Click here for symptoms.

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation. People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Worry about panic attacks, and the effort spent trying to avoid attacks, cause significant problems in various areas of the person’s life, including the development of agoraphobia. 


Click here for symptoms.

Phobia-related Disorders

A phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object. 

Specific Phobias

People who have a specific phobia have an intense fear of a particular object or type of situation. Examples of specific phobias include the fear of flying, heights, specific animals (spiders, snakes, dogs), receiving injections, or blood.

Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder have a general intense fear of, or anxiety toward, social or performance situations. They worry that actions or behaviors associated with their anxiety will be negatively evaluated by others, leading them to feel embarrassed. This worry often causes people with social anxiety to avoid social situations. Social anxiety disorder can manifest in a range of situations, such as within the workplace or the school environment.


People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of two or more of the following situations: using public transportation, being in open spaces, being in enclosed spaces (also known as claustrophobia), standing in line or being in a crowd; and/or being outside of the home alone. People with agoraphobia often avoid those situations because they are afraid to leave the safety of their home, or that leaving might be difficult or impossible, triggering an embarassing situation or a panic-like reaction. In the most severe form of agoraphobia, an individual can become housebound.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety is often thought of as something that only children deal with; but adults can also be suffer from separation anxiety disorder. People who have separation anxiety disorder have fears about being parted from people to whom they are attached. They often worry that some sort of harm or something untoward will happen to their attachment figures while they are separated. This fear leads them to avoid being separated from their attachment figures and to avoid being alone. People with separation anxiety may have nightmares about being separated from attachment figures or experience physical symptoms when separation occurs or is anticipated.

Selective Mutism

A somewhat rare disorder, Selective Mutism occurs when people fail to speak in specific social situations despite having normal language skills. Selective mutism usually occurs before the age of 5 and is often associated with extreme shyness, fear of social embarrassment, compulsive traits, withdrawal, clinging behavior, and temper tantrums. 

"Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before age 21." -- National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI)

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