Director: Mark Sisti, PhD
Offices: Huntington, Setauket & Brooklyn 631-696-2896
Anxiety disorders are the most common problem seen by psychologists and psychiatrists. Recent national surveys have indicated that a startling 25% of the population reported having symptoms severe enough to warranty the diagnosis for an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. The demands of stressful situations or even everyday life will cause most of us to feel anxious at different points in our life. What makes these feelings an “anxiety disorder” is that the problem persists for weeks and begins to interfere with occupational and/or social functioning. Symptoms can vary from mild, to severe in which case almost total disability can occur. Anxiety disorders are actually a group of separate but sometimes overlapping disorders, they include: phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, simple phobia), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety d isorder (a common childhood problem). These separate disorders will be discussed as a group since they share so many of the same symptoms.
Physical & Emotional Symptoms
One of the primary characteristics of all anxiety problems is of course fear. While the experience of fear under certain situations is a part of life, fear that significantly interferes with our daily functioning doesn’t have to be. Emotionally fear can vary from experiencing anticipation and tension, to at worst, acute panic attacks. Physical symptoms can include difficulties sleeping, loss of appetite, stomach upset, diarrhea, restlessness, muscle aches and tension headaches. Acute fear otherwise known as a panic attack can include a sudden feeling of terror accompanied by: trembling/shaking, sweating, hot/cold flashes, faintness, unsteadiness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, disorientation, racing heart, chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, dry mouth, numbness in body parts, etc.
Cognitions are simply thoughts. These include the ideas or images that come to mind while a person is feeling anxious. Anxious thoughts are generally characterized by the belief that you or someone you know is in some type of danger, that something dangerous is about to happen. One of the main definitions of a phobia is believing that something is dangerous when it really is not, the fear is irrational or excessive. Most anxiety sufferers can see that their thoughts are unrealistic, distorted or excessive but find it very difficult to stop thinking these thoughts. For social phobia, fears are centered around social situations in which one focuses on not getting approval, failing, or being embarrassed. Thoughts during panic attacks include, ideas about losing control, going crazy, or dying. Agoraphobic thoughts are often connected to believing that certain sensations or situations are going to lead to another full panic attack, and that without someone else around this cannot be stopped or may even be dangerous. Obsessive-compulsive thoughts often include the inability to stop thinking about, contamination, germs, illness, death, sex, religion, personal responsibility, loosing control and getting violent with oneself or others. Post-traumatic stress disorder includes flashbacks from some traumatic event, which may also be present in nightmares, and often thoughts about being responsible for the event. Generalized anxiety disorder produces almost constant worry about what might happen in a wide variety of areas in a persons life (e.g. health, financial, etc.). Younger children may be less able to express their fears clearly, or may report more primitive fears of harm such as monsters, eyes in the dark, or something bad happening to themselves or parents if they are separated.
Behavioral characteristics are primarily different forms of avoidance. Avoidance can take a variety of forms, often it’s as simple as giving in to the urge not to go to a certain place, or to quickly escape if the discomfort gets to powerful. Sometimes avoidance can take on more complicated forms such as compulsions or rituals in which certain actions may be excessively repeated even though it doesn’t make sense to repeat them. Examples would include excessive cleanliness, ordering, or checking. Avoidance is a natural, almost automatic way that people try to reduce anxiety, physical distress and panic attacks. Unfortunately avoidance never helps a person to learn how to cope and instead worsens the problem.