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Anxiety and anxiety disorders

Anxiety can be described as a feeling of fear, nervousness, or unease. Anxiety is a natural emotional state. Anxiety is a neurobiological response to anticipating danger that protects us and helps us cope with a worrying and possibly dangerous situation. It is natural to experience a certain level of anxiety, such as during a job interview. However, when anxiety becomes excessive and persists, it is becomes a problem and possibly a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders affect essential areas of life such as social and professional functioning as well as our physical health.

The most common forms of anxiety disorders:

Social anxiety

This form of anxiety is characterized primarily by marked or intense fear or anxiety of situations in which the person may feel scrutinized by other people. Another important characteristic of social anxiety is the fear of acting in a certain way that might let others see their symptoms of anxiety and thus cause others to judge oneself negatively. For example, a person who suffers from social anxiety may be afraid of shaking, tripping, blushing, or making mistakes in their words in the presence of others.


A person who suffers from this disorder feels a fear of being judged, humiliated, or rejected by others. This disorder is also characterized by invasive negative thoughts before and after a situation where the person has spoken or felt scrutinized by others. The continual fear of speaking in public, speaking in a meeting, calling for information, asking questions in class or participating in activities such as parties can be an example of the presence of this disorder.  Social anxiety is not about going through an embarrassing situation, and it is not a character trait.

Social anxiety is a little-known anxiety disorder that is difficult to understand even for the person who suffers from it. Often this disorder is confused with embarrassment, shyness, intrusion or anti-social behavior, but it is a mental disorder that can be treated. A person who suffers from social anxiety wants and feels the need to build and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships, to live healthy social relationships or simply not having to experience this suffering. However, as in any disorder it is difficult for the person to stop the suffering  which can cause significant emotional distress especially during the period of adolescence which is a period of discovery and development of identity. Social anxiety can therefore cripple a person's ability to function in life which can lead to depression and even suicide.

Social anxiety can lead to:

  • Suffering or emotional distress

  • Avoidance of social situations and isolation

  • Difficulties building and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships

  • Confusion and questioning about his behavior and actions

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, such as feeling weird, stupid, or anti-social

  • Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem

  • Loss of ideas, difficulty finding words when speaking in public or maintaining a conversation

  • Stomach pain

  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat

  • Excessive sweating

  • Blushing

  • Diarrhea or abdominal discomfort


General anxiety

Generalized anxiety is characterized by an excessive and persistent fear that something "bad" will happen and the constant need for control to prevent the negative situation. For example, a person might constantly fear losing their job for no justifiable reason. The worries are excessive and difficult to control. Generalized anxiety involves worrying about various areas of life such as work, health, finances. Generalized anxiety can have detrimental effects on how a person functions in their day-to-day life. It can cause difficulties in family, professional, social and relationships.


General anxiety can lead to:

  • Irritability

  • Sleep disorders

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle pain

  • Blackouts

  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat

  • Excessive sweating

  • Diarrhea or abdominal discomfort


Specific Phobia

This form of anxiety disorder is characterized by an excessive, persistent, and irrational fear of a situation or object.


Situations or objects that can cause specific phobias:

  • Heights

  • Animals

  • Insects

  • Bridges

  • Confined spaces (claustrophobia)

Phobia can lead to:

  • Avoidance

  • Confusion

  • Heart palpitation or rapid heartbeat

  • Excessive sweating

  • Stomach pain

  • Diarrhea or abdominal discomfort

  •  Muscle pain

  • Tremors


Panic disorder and agoraphobia

Panic disorder refers to recurrent, unexpected panic attacks followed by at least one month of:

  • Persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences.

  • Significant maladaptive changes in behavior related to the attacks (e.g., avoiding exercices or places for fear of having a panic attack).

Like most of mental health problems, panic disorder appears to be causing by a combination of biological, psychological and life experiences such as childhood experiences of sexual and physical abuse.


A panic attack is a sudden feeling of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. A panic attack itself is not a mental disorder. A panic attack can occur in different context such as depression, substance use disorders or in some medical conditions.

Symptômes of panic attack:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Feeling of choking

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  •  Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint

  • Chills or heat sensations

  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself

  • Fear of dying

  • Fear of losing control

Agoraphobia is a fear or anxiety of being in a place or situation where it would be difficult, inconvenient to escape or to get help in the event of a panic attack.

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