what it's like to feel anxious--the butterflies in
your stomach before a first date, the tension you
feel when your boss is angry, the way your heart
pounds if you're in danger. Anxiety rouses you to
action. It gears you up to face a threatening
situation. It makes you study harder for that exam,
and keeps you on your toes when you're making a
speech. In general, it helps you cope.
But if you have an anxiety disorder, this normally
helpful emotion can do just the opposite--it can
keep you from coping and can disrupt your daily
life. Anxiety disorders aren't just a case of
"nerves." They are illnesses, often related to the
biological makeup and life experiences of the
individual, and they frequently run in families.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, each
with its own distinct features.
An anxiety disorder may make you feel anxious most
of the time, without any apparent reason. Or the
anxious feelings may be so uncomfortable that to
avoid them you may stop some everyday activities. Or
you may have occasional bouts of anxiety so intense
they terrify and immobilize you.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all the
mental disorders. At the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH), the Federal agency that
conducts and supports research related to mental
disorders, mental health, and the brain, scientists
are learning more and more about the nature of
anxiety disorders, their causes, and how to
alleviate them. NIMH also conducts educational
outreach activities about anxiety disorders and
other mental illnesses.
Many people misunderstand these disorders and think
individuals should be able to overcome the symptoms
by sheer willpower. Wishing the symptoms away does
not work--but there are treatments that can help.
That's why NIMH has produced this pamphlet--to help
you understand these conditions, describe their
treatments, and explain the role of research in
conquering anxiety and other mental disorders.
This brochure gives brief explanations of
generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder (which
is sometimes accompanied by agoraphobia), specific
phobias, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive
disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. More
detailed information on some of these anxiety
disorders is available through NIMH or other
sources. (See the listings at the end of this
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
"I always thought I was just a worrier. I'd feel
keyed up and unable to relax. At times it would come
and go, and at times it would be constant. It could
go on for days. I'd worry about what I was going to
fix for a dinner party, or what would be a great
present for somebody. I just couldn't let something
"I'd have terrible sleeping problems. There were
times I'd wake up wired in the morning or in the
middle of the night. I had trouble concentrating,
even reading the newspaper or a novel. Sometimes I'd
feel a little lightheaded. My heart would race or
pound. And that would make me worry more."
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