What are Anxiety Disorders?

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You’re suffering from anxiety when, stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, your heart starts pounding and your hands start sweating.

Or an argument with your spouse makes your muscles tense up, and your knees feel weak.

An occasional bout of some anxiety is not only unavoidable, it’s healthy. This emotion serves a constructive function to prepare you to deal with stressful situations to motivate you to avoid adversity and to solve problems. But frequent, intense anxiety is not a healthy condition…

When anxiety itself is the problem

There is reason to be concerned about anxiety when the symptoms are out of proportion to the triggering event or situation or the anxiety interferes with your ability to attend to everyday activities and responsibilities.

High-performing managers who live and work in a stressful environment of challenge and change usually can tell the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that is out of control. Typical…

• An executive has been a polished speaker for years

An executive has been a polished speaker for years, experiencing a normal case of jitters before he/she begins each presentation but never afraid of the experience. Then during a particular presentation, for no apparent reason, he has a panic attack his heart begins to race, he experiences shortness of breath and lightheadedness and is sure he is going to pass out. As a result, the manager begins to be fearful that those jitters will overwhelm him in the next presentation and so starts to make excuses and refuses invitations to speak.

• A manager has made many business trips by plane

A manager has made many business trips by plane, experiencing the usual anxieties when planes hit turbulent air or landings are delayed because of bad weather. Then, for some reason, the anticipation of those fears becomes overwhelming. The manager begins to balk at taking business trips and declines a promotion that would require even more travel.

Problem: Fears caused by the anticipation of a panic attack can interfere with normal everyday living. These are fears of the actual feelings themselves.

These are not fears of flying or fears of talking before groups of people. They are fears that the feelings themselves will be overwhelming, turning talks and presentations into total disasters. A person fears he may lose control or make a fool of himself that the racing heart and shortness of breath will kill him or that he may be losing his mind.

Caution: Competent managers very often self-diagnose these symptoms as “all in their heads” to be conquered by self-discipline. They often work in a business culture and environment that encourages people to be strong and tough it out.

They are embarrassed to reveal their fears. And even though many of these symptoms are overwhelming to the person experiencing them, their peers and subordinates may not see any outward signs of the terrors within.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in America today. Between 13% and 23% of Americans suffer from these problems which can manifest themselves as panic attacks, phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders are also among the most easily treatable mental disorders. Like hypertension and diabetes, the symptoms generally respond favorably to medication and training in behavior modification by qualified psychotherapists.

Trap: While anxiety sufferers have no reason to be embarrassed about their feelings, or to believe that there is no remedy, fewer than 25% of the people who suffer these irrational fears actually receive treatment.

The right medicine

Anyone who went to a doctor over 10 years ago in search of relief from an anxiety problem and had a disappointing experience with prescribed medication should not be reluctant if necessary to try again now. Prior to the mid1980s, doctors usually treated panic symptoms with drugs that were potentially habit-forming and not always very helpful. More effective treatments are now available.

No one pill will make all the symptoms of an anxiety disorder magically disappear. Even though many people do recover completely from their distressing symptoms, anxiety disorders are generally a chronic condition that can be greatly relieved, though rarely eradicated by, the right medication and behavior therapy.

A psychiatrist trained in managing anxiety disorders may prescribe Xanax (alprazolam) or Klonopin (clonazepam), although these might be habit-forming or Prozac (fluoxetine hydrochloride) or Paxil (paroxetine) or Tofranil(imipramine). Many more medications specifically designed to treat panic disorders are undergoing Food and Drug Administration testing.

A psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety disorders can generally train patients in ways to modify their thoughts and behavior effectively and efficiently, and at far less cost than for other mental conditions. Consult your doctor for referrals to experienced psychotherapists in your area.


In addition to using medication it is often possible to learn to manage irrational anxieties on your own.

Key: Use your creativity to give yourself an “out” either actual or imaginary from anxiety provoking places or situations.

Example: If you start sweating due to anxiety related to a luncheon meeting to discuss renewal of a contract with a major customer, take note of the location of the restaurant’s phone and restrooms places you can easily retreat to for a needed emotional break and then make a graceful retreat if you need to.

Important: An out something that helps you to face the scary situation is not a crutch. A crutch is something you use to keep yourself away from the activity. A crutch is having someone else do the shopping because you are afraid of stores, sticking to side streets while driving instead of using highways, walking up steps instead of using elevators. An out, on the other hand, is anything that gets you in.

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