Anxiety, also called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), is a mental disorder characterized by persistent excessive or unrealistic fears or worries. The term "anxiety" is commonly used to refer to a general state of unease or apprehension about future events; this is a common feeling experienced by everyone at some point in their lives. GAD describes the condition in which those feelings of fear and worry are persistent¿ -- ¿lasting for weeks or months at a time¿ -- ¿and exaggerated out of proportion to the actual risk or threat, often well beyond what is appropriate for the situation. People with GAD may be overly concerned about their health, finances, family problems, or work and the feelings of nervousness or dread disrupt their everyday lives. These feelings are accompanied by physical symptoms including headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and muscle tension.
GAD affects about7 million American adults, and two thirds of these are women. It can affect people at any age but occurs most frequently between childhood and middle age. Several treatments are available for GAD including medications and psychotherapy as well as coping skills that can help those with anxiety deal with their feelings of dread.
In addition to GAD there are several other anxiety disorders that have anxiety as an integral part of the disorder, including:
-- Panic disorder: in which people experience sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart and sweatiness, that give them a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control.
-- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): in which people are obsessed with certain fears (e.g. cleanliness, safety) which compels them to perform certain rituals (e.g. cleaning, counting, checking) to relieve the anxiety that these fears produce.
-- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a disease that can develop in people who have taken-part in or witnessed a terrifying event that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm (such as war, rape, or kidnapping) and may cause the person reliving the stressful event over and over.
-- Social anxiety disorder: those with with social anxiety disorder experience overwhelming anxiety in everyday social situations and the fear of that anxiety may pervade their lives.
-- Specific phobias: irrational fears about specific things that pose little or no actual danger, such as heights, water, flying, or spiders.
Continued on page 2: What are the symptoms of anxiety?