Anxiety disorders include a variety of conditions characterized by clinically significant anxiety, distress, and worry. Some common anxiety disorders are:
- Phobias: characterized by clinically significant anxiety provoked by the exposure to a specific feared object or situation, often leading to avoidance behaviour
- Obsessive compulsive disorder: characterized by obsessions which cause anxiety and/or by compulsions which neutralize anxiety
- Generalized anxiety disorder: characterized by at least 6 months of persistent and excessive anxiety and worry
Panic attacks are recognized as symptoms of anxiety disorders because of their common occurrence in these conditions. The body’s fight or flight response to imminent threat is considered panic. Panic attacks are the sudden onset of intense fear or discomfort in the absence of real danger with additional cognitive or somatic symptoms such as sweating, palpitations, trembling, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and nausea. Anxiety intensifies to a panic attack when the sufferer attributes physiological symptoms as uncontrollable signs of inevitable panic onset. This triggers a positive feedback loop that results in the intensification of panic symptoms. This is different from anxiety which is the state of preparation for a future threat.
The panic and/or anxiety response has an adaptive value in subjective, physiological, and behavioural adjustment to an urgent event. When these responses are locked perpetually in a feedback loop, panic and/or anxiety disorders can cause disruption in daily functioning.
Treatments for Anxiety
Non-pharmacological treatments include anxiety counselling, neurofeedback, and EMDR. One type effective talk therapy treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of anxiety counselling designed to help a person understand the relationship between thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. Specific to anxiety disorders counselling therapy can include self monitoring, breathing retraining, applied relaxation, cognitive restructuring, exposure, and learned acceptance. The success of anxiety counselling relies on the collaborative relationship between a client and therapist to work together in identifying loops in responses, setting goals, and applying strategies to relearn the adaptive value of these responses.