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Anxiety Disorders: Not just a case of “nerves”

Published by: LifeWorks,


Anxiety disorders can affect anyone at any age – adults, older adults, and even children. According to Health Canada, one in 10 Canadians is affected by an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health problem.

Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, they can negatively influence how a person feels, thinks, and acts, causing significant impairment. They can be frightening and disabling, with some individuals experiencing occasional instances of terrifying, intense, immobilizing anxiety. A person cannot overcome an anxiety disorder just through willpower, nor can the symptoms be ignored or wished away. Many people who have anxiety disorders also have symptoms of depression, eating disorders, or substance abuse.

Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a constant, exaggerated worry that lasts for more than six months. A person with GAD always anticipates a disaster or worries excessively about health, money, work, or family problems. Often, the source of the tension is not specific, yet still inhibits a person’s ability to get through the day.
  • Panic Disorder: Panic Disorder can cause feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly without warning. These attacks usually last about 10 minutes, but can last up to an hour. Many people develop intense anxiety between attacks, worrying about when another will strike. Symptoms include a pounding heart; sweating; feeling weak or dizzy; numbness or tingling in the hands; feeling flushed or chilled; chest pain or smothering sensations; sense of unreality; fear of loss of control, “losing one’s mind,” and of dying. Often, an individual experiencing a panic attack for the first time believes he/she is having a heart attack or stroke.


  • Simple Phobias are intense fears of particular objects or situations. People who suffer from specific phobias are aware that their fear is irrational, but the thought of facing the object or situation causes severe anxiety. Examples include persistent fear of: dogs, insects or snakes; driving a car; heights; tunnels or bridges; thunderstorms, and flying.
  • Agoraphobia is a fear of being in places from which it might be difficult or embarrassing to escape – such as being in a room full of people or in an elevator. In some cases, an individual living with severe panic attacks may develop agoraphobia because s/he fears another episode. In extreme cases, agoraphobia can cause a person to be afraid to leave his/her house.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder is the fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in front of other people. This problem may be related to feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, and can cause a person to drop out of school or stay unemployed, and avoid making friends. People suffering from social phobia often live with depression or substance abuse as well, and may view small mistakes as major problems; find blushing embarrassing; feel that all eyes are on them; fear speaking in public, dating or talking with authority figures; fear using public restrooms or eating out; and fear talking on the phone or writing in front of others.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by uncontrollable persistent, unwelcome thoughts called obsessions, and rituals called compulsions — performed to try to prevent or dispel the obsessions. In order to meet the criteria for this disorder, obsessions and compulsions must create significant distress, be time-consuming (take more than an hour a day), or otherwise interfere with normal routines, work, activities, or relationships. Examples include obsessions with germs or dirt leading to repeated hand-washing, and repetitive checking rituals (making sure the iron or stove are turned off, or that the door is locked, etc.). People with OCD recognize that their behaviour is irrational, but they are unable to stop it.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that can follow a terrifying experience, such as life in a war zone, rape, kidnapping, car wreck, natural disaster, or witnessing a tragedy. The person repeatedly re-experiences the event through nightmares or persistent, frightening thoughts and memories. A flashback may cause the person to feel or even act as though the events were recurring. Symptoms may include: sleep problems; depression; feeling numb; being easily startled; loss of interest in things previously enjoyed; trouble feeling affectionate; irritability, and feeling aggressive or violent.

Many people with anxiety disorders find it helpful to join a support group that allows them to meet with others who have their disorder. Yoga, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation may also make it easier to cope. You might also check out our tips on getting a daily mindfulness practice started.



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