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University Counseling Center

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the United States at some point in their lives. Several distinct categories of anxiety disorders exist, including the following:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: characterized by excessive anxiety and worry within multiple domains of functioning, persisting for at least 6 months.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: characterized by the presence of recurrent thoughts, images, or impulses that cause distress and are difficult to control. The individual may engage in repetitive or ritualized behaviors, such as hand washing, ordering, or checking, in an effort to control the obsessions and reduce anxiety.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: characterized by the re-experiencing of a traumatic event that threatened the safety or life of the individual or another person. This may be experienced in the form of nightmares or flashbacks, and when presented with similar situations or things reminiscent of the event, the individual may responds with the same fear and distress experienced during the event itself. The individual may dissociate during the trauma, and later avoid stimuli that are associated with the incident.

Panic Attacks: characterized by sudden, intense periods of fear and terror, often occurring with somatic experiences that can include feelings of suffocation, racing heart, palpitations and chest pain, and feelings of losing control. Panic Disorder exists when an individual experiences recurrent panic attacks that interfere with functioning. These attacks can cause fear of future attacks as well as avoidance (or endurance with great distress) of situations in which it would be difficult to escape if a panic attack were to occur. This symptom is referred to as agoraphobia. Panic Disorder can occur with or without the presence of this behavior.

Phobias: characterized by the experience of intense and excessive anxiety within the presence of specific stimuli or social situations. This anxiety causes the individual distress and may cause avoidance of the feared stimulus or situation.

All of these disorders are characterized by fearfulness and avoidance, as well as distress and impairment in the individual’s functioning.

Genetic predispositions and environmental factors can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, and these conditions can be treated successfully with psychotherapy, medication, or combined treatments. Cognitve-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention, and Relaxation Training are among some of the most effective psychotherapeutic treatments for reducing symptoms of anxiety.

Additionally, psychopharmacologic treatments have also been successful in treating anxiety disorders. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) are often prescribed to treat these disorders.

In the treatment of anxiety disorders, the individual and the clinician will collaborate in developing a specific treatment approach, considering the individual’s symptoms and diagnosis, any empirical evidence supporting therapies for those particular experiences, and the individual’s preferences for treatment.