University of HoustonDepartment of Psychology
University of Houston


Anxiety Disorders

The Anxiety Disorders are a series of diagnoses related to fears, phobias, and anxiety. Professionals commonly break Anxiety Disorders into 7 categories: Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder (also known as Social Phobia), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even though professionals often describe these as separate diagnoses, they are very similar. In fact, these "disorders" appear to be variations of a single Anxiety Disorder.

Everybody experiences anxiety and fear. It is a natural human emotion. Most people would become anxious if they thought they may be very ill or had a serious medical problem, if they thought everyone was laughing at them, or if they felt something terrible might happen. However, most people don't often have those thoughts very often. For individuals with Anxiety Disorder, these thoughts are a regular occurrence. Things that might not trigger these thoughts in someone else, such as a queasy stomach, might very easily trigger these thoughts in someone with Anxiety Disorder. Because of this, the anxiety can start to create many difficulties in a person's life, such as interfering with school, work, and social/family life.

When someone becomes anxious or fearful, whether or not they have Anxiety Disorder, three things happen in their body and mind. First, the body prepares itself for danger. The heart begins to speed up, breathing quickens, muscles become tense, and so forth. This is the so-called Fight or Flight response, and it is the reason for the unpleasant physical symptoms of anxiety.

Second, the mind shifts your attention to search for signs of danger. This is why people have so many thoughts of danger when anxious, such as "Am I having a heart attack?" "Everybody is staring at me" or "What if my children were in an accident?". Your mind is desperately trying to find the danger. But sometimes it sees dangers that aren't really there. This attention shift is also why people with Anxiety Disorder sometimes report concentration problems.

Third, the mind also tries its best to motivate you to do something to avoid, escape from, or neutralize the danger. Some people may run away from the things they fear, some people will avoid the things they fear altogether, and others will do things to protect themselves like repeatedly wash their hands or repeatedly call loved ones to check in on them. While this seems to help in the short-term, it can actually strengthen the fears in the long run.

If this description seems to fit what you have been experiencing or if you believe that you may have an Anxiety Disorder, and you want help with these difficulties, please contact the Anxiety Disorder Clinic at 713-743-8609 to schedule an assessment.


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