Anxiety disorders are a real issue

Published 9:42 am Saturday, February 28, 2015

by April Knight

The following excerpt about anxiety disorders was taken from the National Alliance on Mental Illness website at NAMI is an excellent website that provides information, support, and advocacy opportunities dealing with mental illness and mental health issues.

We will also explore anxiety disorders in-depth in our family education and support group beginning on March 3.

Everyone experiences anxiety. Speaking in front of a group makes most of us anxious, but that motivates us to prepare and do well. Driving in heavy traffic is a common source of anxiety, but it keeps us alert and cautious to better avoid accidents. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress are overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday things, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.

Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions, and each with unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. People can experience one or both of the following categories:

Emotional symptoms:

• Feelings of apprehension or dread

• Feeling tense and jumpy

• Restlessness or irritability

• Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger

Physical symptoms:

• Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath

• Upset stomach

• Sweating, tremors and twitches

• Headaches, fatigue and insomnia

• Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea

Different anxiety disorders have various symptoms. This means that each type of anxiety disorder has its own treatment plan. The most common anxiety disorders include:

Panic Disorder

Characterized by panic attacks — sudden feelings of terror — sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. Often mistaken for a heart attack, a panic attack causes powerful, physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and upset stomach. Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid having an attack, including social isolation or avoiding going to specific places.


Everyone tries to avoid certain things or situations that make them uncomfortable or even fearful. However, for someone with a phobia, certain places, events or objects create powerful reactions of strong, irrational fear. Most people with specific phobias have several triggers. To avoid panicking, someone with specific phobias will work hard to avoid their triggers. Depending on the type and number of triggers, this fear and the attempt to control it can seem to take over a person’s life.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks. A person with GAD may become exhausted by worry and experience headaches, tension or nausea.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Unlike shyness, this disorder causes intense fear, often driven by irrational worries about social humiliation — “saying something stupid,” or “not knowing what to say.” Someone with social anxiety disorder may not participate in conversations, contribute to class discussions, offer their ideas and may become isolated. Panic attack symptoms are a common reaction.

Other anxiety disorders include: agoraphobia, separation anxiety disorder and substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder involving intoxication or withdrawal or medication treatment.

Scientists believe that many factors combine to cause anxiety disorders. Two of the most important include:

• Genetics. Some families will have a higher than average numbers of members experiencing anxiety issues, and studies support the evidence that anxiety disorders run in families. This can be a factor in someone developing an anxiety disorder;

• Stress. A stressful or traumatic event such as abuse, death of a loved one, violence or prolonged illness is often linked to the development of an anxiety disorder.

For more information about treatment for anxiety disorders, go to

APRIL KNIGHT is a qualified mental health professional who worked with the mentally ill for the past 17 years in various roles, including as the executive director and founding member of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic. She can be reached at or at 562-6806.

The Children’s Center, with a grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, is sponsoring the SAFE (Support and Family Education) Program, an eight-week educational and support group program developed for families and others who care about someone living with mental illness. The program will run on Tuesday evenings beginning March 3. To register, e-mail April Knight at or call her at 562-6806.