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Everyone knows what it is like to feel anxious — That un­comfortable, apprehensive feeling that comes over us when we are stressed. At normal levels, anxiety rouses us to action. It causes us to study more for an exam; it prepares us for action in a dangerous situation; it keeps us on task as we give an impor­tant presentation to our boss. Anxiety is a normal cognitive and physiological response designed to call our attention to the seriousness of an event or situation and motivate us to ac­tion. With an anxiety disorder, however, the anxiety is not mild and brief as described above, but severe and chronic. While there are several types of anxiety disorders, each with its own distinct set of symptoms, they all share as a symptom an unrealistic, irrational fear of disabling intensity.

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) is characterized by a marked, or intense, fear of social situations in which the individual may be scrutinized by others. This fear can be so strong that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing other everyday things. Most people who have social phobia know that they shouldn’t be as afraid as they are, but they can’t control their fear. Sometimes, they end up staying away from places or events where they think they might have to do something that will embarrass them. For some people, social phobia is a problem only in certain situations, while others have symptoms in almost any social situation.

Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks that strike suddenly and without warning. A panic attack is a distinct period of intense fear in the absence of real danger. The symptoms of a panic attack can include palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, feelings of choking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, a sense of unreality, and a fear of impending doom or loss of control. To compensate for this anxiety, panic-disordered individuals often begin to avoid places and situations in which they have experienced an attack. Some people’s lives become restricted to the point that they avoid even everyday activities such as driving or going to the store. When this occurs, the person is said to also have agoraphobia.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry, even though there is little or noth­ing to provoke it, occurring for at least six months. In GAD, the anxiety is severe enough to affect the individual’s ability to func­tion daily. The anxiety is always more intense than the situation warrants, and the person will often recognize it as such. With GAD, the anxiety is usually accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, sleeplessness, headache, muscle tension, sweat­ing, shortness of breath, irritability, and hot flashes. During the course of the disorder, the focus of worry may shift from one concern to another.

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TED Talk: Alison Sommer – Understanding and Supporting loved ones with Panic Attacks