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The exact cause of anxiety disorders in unknown, but anxiety disorders–like other forms of mental illness–are not a result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing.  As scientists continue their research on mental illness, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of these disorders are caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the brain and environmental stress.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is excessive, out-of-control worrying about everyday things.  It is irrational or more extreme than the situation warrants.  It can interfere with work, your social life, and interfere with activities of basic living. If the symptoms become severe or uncontrollable, you may also experience Panic Attacks.

  • Persistent fear, sometimes without any obvious cause, that is persistent everyday
  • An unrealistic view of problems
  • Restlessness or feeling of being “edgy”
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Muscle tension, muscle aches
  • GI symptoms
  • feelings of impending doom
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Panic attacks may occur (see below)

Social anxiety disorder (Social Phobia)

Social Anxiety Disorder is when a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations.  Anxiety and self-consciousness arise from a fear of being closely watched, judged, and criticized by others.  Other situations that commonly provoke anxiety include: eating or drinking in front of others, writing or working in front of others, being the center of attention, interacting with people, including dating or going to parties, asking questions or giving reports in groups, using public toilets, etc.

  • Feeling very self-conscience in social situations
  • Crying
  • Fear of being watched and judged by others
  • Feeling shy and uncomfortable when being watched
  • Being hesitant to talk to others
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Feelings of embarrassment or humiliation
  • Having physical sensations of anxiety (see above)
  • Panic attacks (see below)

Panic Attacks (Panic Disorder)

Panic attacks involve sudden feelings of terror that strike without warning.  These episodes can occur at any time, even during sleep.  People experiencing a panic attack may believe that they are having a heart attack or the are dying or going crazy.  The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack are not in proportion to the true situation and may be unrelated to what is happening around them.

  • Sense of impending doom, and even death
  • “Racing” heart
  • Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
  • Feeling sweaty or having chills
  • Chest pains
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feelings of loss of control

NOTE:  Panic attacks can mimic heart attacks/problems so it is important to rule out any cardiac conditions first

** Information obtained in this section from WebMD.