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It is not unusual to feel anxious or panicky when faced with a threatening or stressful situation. But when a person feels worry or panic so overwhelming they cannot live as they usually do, they may have an anxiety disorder.  These disorders often involve feelings of continual or extreme tension, with the fear of, or actual, panic attacks, usually without an obvious cause. Anxiety disorders are common and one in ten Australians will develop such a disorder in their lifetime. More women are affected than men.

There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders including:

  • General anxiety disorder – worrying excessively but not about any one thing in particular.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder – doing repetitive, unwanted actions (compulsions) such as excessive hand washing or checking door locks and /or thoughts (obsessions) such as fear of becoming unwell or harm to self or others.
  • Panic disorder – having regular panic attacks.
  • Social anxiety disorder – overwhelming fear of meeting people to the point of avoiding everyday social situations.
  • Phobia – overwhelming irrational fear of a thing or situation that may spark a panic attack.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – periods of debilitating anxiety after a seriously stressful event, such as being in an accident, natural disaster, being physically, emotionally or sexually abused.

The causes of anxiety disorders are not known but it is thought that severe stress or trauma can be triggers. Some personality types are at greater risk. Treatment may, but not always, include medication as well as psychological therapies, avoidance of stress, exercise and relaxation techniques.

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