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Anxiety Disorders

There are five major Anxiety Disorders and it is not unusual for people to experience symptoms of more than one Anxiety Disorder at the same time. eg a person with panic disorder may also have symptoms of social anxiety and/or some symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Panic Disorder is the experience of spontaneous panic attacks. The intensity of the attack can be extremely severe and many people feel they are having a heart attack an/or are going to die or are going insane. It is not unusual for people to become fearful and chronically anxious about having another one.

Social Anxiety is the experience of fear, anxiety and/or panic in social situations in which people fear they may embarrass themselves in some way.

Acute Stress Disorder /Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the experience, or witness or confrontation with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury or threat to the physical injury of self or others. While people with PTSD can experience panic attacks, the a major feature of PTSD is the reliving of the event/s through dreams and/or or nightmares. (DSM 4)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the experience of obsessive unwanted thoughts and/or compulsive behaviours that may include rituals and can markedly interfere with normal functioning. This can include repetitive behaviours such as hand washing, cleaning, checking, counting, repeating words silently to themselves. eg a person who has a fear of contamination (from germs) may wash their hands repeatedly to the point their skin becomes raw from constant washing. The obsessions and compulsions can 'significantly' interfere with the person's everyday life and cause extreme distress.


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Generalised Anxiety Disorder is persistence and excessive anxiety or worry experienced for six months or more about events or activities which may or may not happen.

People can experience panic attacks with any of the above disorders. Three different types of panic attacks are now recognised: 

Spontaneous panic attacks This particular panic attack is associated to panic disorder. Panic disorder is the fear of having a spontaneous panic attack. This attack comes without any warning day or night irrespective of what the person is doing. The spontaneous attack is not related to and is not induced by any particular situation or place. Many people can be waken from sleep with this type of attack. Many people fear they are dying, having a heart attack or going insane or losing control.

Specific or 'cued' panic attacks These occur in relation to specific feared situations or places. For example social situations for people with Social Phobia. Revisiting the scene or scenes reminiscent of the traumatic events in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or exposure to a particular anxiety producing situation in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as in being 'exposed' to germs.

Situationally predisposed panic attacks People with Panic Disorder may experience this type of attack. Some people with Panic Disorder can be predisposed to having panic attacks in certain situations or places, although they are not frightened of the situation or place. For example someone may experience panic attacks while driving their car. Sometimes they will have them, other times they won't. They are predisposed to having attacks while driving, but the attacks are not a response to a fear of driving.

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