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Anxiety disorders

Anxiety is a strong feeling of fear and may involve constant worry. Intense anxiety is a temporary reaction to the stresses of everyday life. Some anxiety is normal and even necessary. It can help to prepare your body for the fight-or-flight response, which is your body's natural way of coping with being frightened or challenged. Your instincts take over and tell you that you are facing danger and you either need to defend yourself (fight) or get away (flight).

You need to get help when you have physical symptoms that keep you from feeling healthy and affect your work or social life.

Types of anxiety disorders include:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is more than normal, everyday anxiety. It is long-term, exaggerated worry and stress that interferes with work or social activity. You may constantly worry about all sorts of things and expect the worst. You may be unable to relax or you may have trouble sleeping.

A panic disorder causes you to suddenly feel terrified without warning. These situations are called panic attacks. You cannot predict them. They can happen at any time and in any place ("out of the blue"). 

A phobia is a fear of an object, activity or situation that is so intense that you avoid the cause of that fear.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes you to worry and have repeated thoughts, urges or images that may be upsetting. These are called obsessions. An example of an obsession is a fear of germs.

You may also do actions over and over to make disturbing thoughts go away or to make yourself feel safe. Such action are called compulsions. An example of a compulsion is repeated counting.

You may know what you are doing does not make sense, but you cannot stop. These thoughts or actions can become so time consuming that you are unable to live a normal life.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may occur after being in or seeing a scary or terrible event such as a rape, violent crime or fire.

PTSD may cause recurring images of the event, flashbacks, nightmares and intense distress when you are in or around anything that reminds you of the event. You may have problems sleeping, and you may not be able to care about or trust others. You may always be looking for danger.

How Your Brain Responds to Anxiety

Chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in your brain carry messages (nerve impulses) from one nerve to another. Your brain tells your body to make more neurotransmitters. The receiving nerves become overstimulated causing symptoms such as a fast heartbeat or shortness of breath.

Anxiety treatment

Anxiety disorders can be treated.

Medicine, talk therapy and integrative therapies (relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises) can help reduce your symptoms.

Talk with your health care provider about how you can get help.