Anxiety Disorders

Fear is the driving force behind anxiety disorders. Each of us experiences fear throughout the course of our lives. But instead of feeling the reasonable fear that helps us recognize and respond to immediate danger, such as narrowly avoiding a traffic accident, people with an anxiety disorder experience fear that occurs in response to dangers that are either imagined or not immediately threatening. Such people experience almost constant feelings of worry or dread that interfere with their daily activities, along with symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat and increased perspiration.

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders in adults. About 30 million people in the United States have some type of anxiety disorder, and twice as many women as men are affected. Anxiety disorders appear to arise from a combination of stressful life experiences, psychological traits, and genetic inheritance, although certain disorders—such as panic disorder (see page 352)—appear to have a stronger genetic component than others. The most common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

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