Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Phobias


According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, anxiety is “a feeling of dread, fear, or apprehension, often with no clear justification. Anxiety is distinguished from fear because the latter arises in response to a clear and actual danger, such as one affecting a person’s physical safety. Anxiety, by contrast, arises in response to apparently innocuous situations or is the product of subjective, internal emotional conflicts the causes of which may not be apparent to the person [him]self. When such an anxiety is unreasonably evoked by a specific situation or object, it is known as a phobia. A diffuse or persistent anxiety associated with no particular cause or mental concern is called general, or free-floating, anxiety.”  Persistent, intense, chronic, or recurring anxiety not justified in response to real-life stresses is usually regarded as a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

Panic Attacks

According to the DSM 5,  a panic attack is a discrete period in which there is a sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness, or terror, often associated with feelings of impending doom. The symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (feelings of being detached from oneself)
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of dying
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • chills or hot flashes

The Mayo Clinic website has a page with helpful information on this problem.

Specific Phobias

It is possible to be afraid of anything, depending on your past scary experiences (See PTSD). A phobia is different in that it represents a marked fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or expectation of encountering a specific object or situation.  When exposed to the object or situation, a person immediately feels acute anxiety, even though he or she recognizes intellectually that such an extreme fear is excessive or unreasonable.  Common phobias include such things as a fear of animals (e.g. spiders, snakes, dogs, etc), the natural environment (e.g. storms, heights, water, etc), the body (e.g. blood, injection, injury, surgery), and situations (e.g. heights, darkness, being closed in, flying, driving, etc.).

Be careful about diagnosing yourself with any of these phobias if you are experiencing fears or anxieties.  You should ALWAYS consult a professional who can help you diagnose problems and collaborate with you on appropriate treatments.

Act to Take Care of Yourself: Ask for Help.


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