Problems In Psychology: Anxiety Disorders

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The term “anxiety disorder” refers to one of an number of psychological conditions recognised by the mental health profession. To the layman, the words “fear,” “phobia,” “panic,” and “anxiety” are synonymous. They can describe a range of mental states, from terror to dislike.

However, in the psychological profession, those three words have very precise, distinct meanings. Those three words help to describe the different ways in which the natural human responses to danger can become pathological and interfere with normal life.

Today, psychologists recognise at least four main kinds of anxiety disorder. Ranging from the most to the least commonly occurring (according to recent estimates), these eight disorders are: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD); panic disorder; phobias; and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Generalised anxiety disorder, the most common of the anxiety disorders, is a permanent, debilitating psychological condition. It is characterised by constant, unfocused worry about different everyday matters, big or small. People who suffer from this condition find worrying to be a part of life. Their awareness of their own tendency to worry spurs on their worrying to greater and greater levels of intensity (in the same way, Swann’s awareness of his infatuation with Odette in Proust’s Swanns Way only intensifies his infatuation). Whether for cultural or genetic reasons (probably a combination of both), this disorder affects more women than men.

Panic disorder is a condition characterised by a tendency to experience brief attacks of terror. As with the anxiety of generalised anxiety disorder, the panics of this disorder lack a consistent trigger. Rather, the triggers of panic attacks vary person to person, and even situation by situation. Sometimes, panic attacks seem to beset the sufferers for no apparent reason. At other times, situations such as being in an unfamiliar place, a crowded place, or a place with few exits, can trigger panic attacks. One common manifestation of panic disorder is agoraphobia, the fear of being in a crowded place such as is likely to trigger panic attacks. Many sufferers of panic disorder fear the attacks themselves, rather than anything external to their disorder.

A third common disorder is phobia: a pervasive, irrational fear of a particular thing or situation. Phobias vary in how much impact they can have on a life: someone who spends someone who is phobic of snakes and spends most of his time in a large European city is unlikely to suffer serious consequences as a result of his phobia; on the other hand, someone who lives in a big suburb and has a phobia of driving will have to make significant adjustments to his life.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is another anxiety disorder, one which has received much publicity. As the name implies, it is characterised by irrational, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. The expression,  to “line up all one’s ducks in a row” suggests the power that these compulsive rituals hold over sufferers of OCD.

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