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What Is Anxiety?

Everyone feels anxious and stressed at times due to certain situations like academic stress, meeting deadlines, important social situations, family or relationship stress or driving in heavy traffic. Such mild anxiety is normal and helps keep us more alert and focused when facing challenging or even threatening circumstances. Yet when fear and anxiety become overwhelming, this can reduce an individual's productivity and cause extreme distress.

Signs & Symptoms

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. with 40 million of the adult population affected. "Anxiety disorders" is a broad term that encompasses several major psychiatric disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Recurrent, excessive fears or worries about everyday issues, often with a persistent sense that something bad is about to happen.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (also called Social Phobia): Avoidance of everyday social situations due to extreme fear of being judged negatively by others, or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule.
  • Panic Disorder: Sudden, intense feelings of terror and dread for no apparent reason, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, trembling, dizziness and a fear that one is having a heart attack or going crazy. People with panic disorder often fear where and when their next panic attack will occur and restrict their activities as a result.
  • Specific Phobia: Intense fear of an object, place or situation, such as riding in elevators, driving on highways, or heights, that leads to an avoidance of the object or situation. People with specific phobias usually recognize that their fear is irrational and inappropriate for the circumstance.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Several months or even years after severe physical or emotional trauma (natural disaster, serious accident or crime) an individual may relive the event, experience mood disturbance, or have difficulty sleeping.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Characterized by persistent, uncontrollable and unwarranted feelings or thoughts (obsessions) or rituals or behaviors (compulsions) in which individuals try to prevent or rid themselves of these distressing thoughts or feelings. Examples of common compulsions include excessive hand washing or checking behaviors.

Recommended Treatment


Anxiety disorders are real, serious and, if left untreated, can have severe consequences. Most cases of anxiety disorder can be treated successfully. According to research, both behavioral therapy (such as relaxation techniques) and cognitive therapy (understanding how thoughts contribute to anxiety symptoms and how to change thought patterns) can be highly effective treatments.


Along with psychotherapy, anti-depressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's like Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro), and anti-anxiety medications (like Ativan and Klonopin) are also effective when used on an as needed basis and monitored closely by a prescribing physician or psychiatrist.

Helpful Websites

For more information or an appointment, call Counseling & Psychological Services
(203) 254-4000 ext. 2146

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