Feeling anxious temporarily is one thing, but when it is so serious that it interferes with your life and work, leads you to avoid certain situations or keeps you from enjoying life, it is likely an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the number one mental health problem among American women and second only to substance abuse among men, according to research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders affect approximately 15% of the United States population.

Some say anxiety disorders are an outcome of cumulative stress acting over time. Others blame conflict in the world, economic unpredictability, and the increased pace of modern society.

Anxiety differs from fear in that fear always has a source. People who suffer from anxiety disorders feel both the emotional and physical symptoms of fear without being able to identify the reason they feel that way. Often they realize the anxiety is irrational, but cannot reduce or eliminate it.

Medical disorders that produce symptoms similar to Anxiety, Panic Attacks/Disorder include:

• Hyperthyroidism
• Mitral valve prolapse
• Pheochromocytoma
• Hypoglycemia
• Drug & alcohol withdrawal

Physical Symptoms May Include:

• Shortness of breath or smothering sensations
• Pressure or heavy feeling in the chest
• Numbness or tingling sensation
• Sweating or cold clammy hands or feet
• Trembling, twitching or feeling shaky
• Lightheadedness
• Butterflies or knots in stomach; nausea
• Dry mouth, lump in your throat or difficulty swallowing
• Skipping or racing heart
• Dizzy spells
• Muscle tension, aches or soreness, restlessness and tiring easily
• Having an exaggerated startle response
• Trouble falling or staying asleep
• Trouble concentrating

Psychological Symptoms May Include:

• Feeling something terrible is about to happen
• Fear of fainting, hear troubles, or “going crazy”
• Persistent or unwanted thoughts
• Fear of losing control of your emotions
• Fear you are having a nervous breakdown
• Excessive worry about your health
• Feeling keyed up or on edge

Behavior Symptoms May Include:

• Avoiding public places
• Avoiding social situations
• Avoiding any place or situation you can’t control
• Irritability (top)


Everyone feels some degree of anxiety or uneasiness from time to time. For most people, anxiety responses develop only when they are needed. For others, feelings of anxiety and apprehension are almost constant companions. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is an illness that causes people to face frequent unrealistic and excessive fears or worries. Several of the following symptoms are present in generalized anxiety disorder:

• Restlessness- feeling keyed up or on edge
• Being easily fatigued
• Difficulty concentrating
• Irritability
• Muscle tension
• Sleep problems


A panic disorder, or “panic attack,” is characterized by distinct periods of intense fear or discomfort usually lasting only minutes but may continue for hours.

Medical researchers think panic attacks are related to biological malfunction. Some suggest that people who suffer from panic disorder have abnormal “alarm” systems. Rather than responding only to real danger, their systems set off all the physical and emotional signals of danger when no threat actually exists.


Agoraphobia is often misunderstood and believed to be a fear of open spaces due to the literal interpretation of the word. In fact, the essence of agoraphobia is a fear of panic attacks or a fear of losing control. Fear of embarrassment plays a key role. Avoidance is common regarding a variety of situations including public transportation, crowded public places like church or the grocery store, enclosed places like tunnels, elevators, and bridges, or driving alone.


The dominant characteristic of Phobia is avoidant behavior. Phobia is defined as a persistent fear of a particular object or situation. Social phobias may involve fears of public speaking, crowds, taking examinations (test anxiety), public toilets, being watched, dating, and many others. Social phobia is one of the more common anxiety disorders and is estimated to affect up to 14% of the U.S. population at some time in their life. (top)

Specific phobias typically involve a strong fear and avoidance of one particular type of object or situation. Among the most common are those regarding animals, Acrophobia (fear of heights), elevators, airplanes, doctors or dentists, thunder or lightning, blood or injury, and illness. Specific phobias are common and affect approximately 10% of the population.


OCD has become a compliment in some parts of our society. It is commonly used to refer to those who tend to be more neat, tidy, and orderly than others. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) actually is the extreme and disruptive degree of these same characteristics. It is no compliment and no fun to live with OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder that involves recurrent obsessions or compulsions severe enough to be time consuming or cause great difficulty in every day life.

Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, impulses, or images, such as repetitive thoughts of violence or contamination. They are typically not related to a real-life problem, but nevertheless cause a significant level of anxiety.

Compulsions or rituals are repetitive, intentional behaviors that one feels compelled to perform, often reluctantly. Compulsions are performed in response to an obsession and are intended to neutralize or prevent some feared event. Common compulsions include excessive washing, checking, ordering objects to achieve symmetry, and performing mental rituals.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will impact one adult in 40 or 2.5% of the general population at some point in their lives. Many OCD sufferers wait years before seeking treatment. Individuals with OCD who receive either behavior therapy or a combination of medication and behavior therapy show the highest rate of recovery.

If severe and not treated, OCD can destroy one’s work, social life and even family relationships. Current treatment may entail relaxation training, cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, and lifestyle and personality changes.


During the course of a lifetime, about half of all Americans will experience at least one traumatic event like assault, military combat, accident, violence, rape, or natural disaster. Most people can and will absorb the psychological impact of such an experience without significant disruption in their normal lives. It is those who cannot that develop post-traumatic stress disorder. (top)

The essential feature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the development of disabling psychological symptoms following a traumatic event. PTSD consists of three symptom “clusters”: re-experiencing, avoidant/numbing, and hype-arousal.

• Re-experiencing
• Intrusive recollections
• Disturbing nightmares
• Flashbacks
• Trauma-related stimulus-evoked physiological and psychological reactions
• Avoidant/Numbing
• Avoiding trauma-related thoughts, feelings, activities, places, and people
• Amnesia regarding the trauma
• Loss of interest in usual things
• Feelings of detachment or estrangement
• Restricted emotions
• Sense of foreshortened future
• Hyper-arousal
• Insomnia (can’t sleep)
• Irritability
• Trouble concentrating
• Hypervigilance (maintaining an abnormal awareness of external stimuli)
• Exaggerated startle response


Effective treatments for anxiety and the various anxiety disorders are available. Although medical scientists don’t know specifically what causes anxiety and panic, they do know that medications and therapy can successfully treat the illness. The key is in recognizing the symptoms and seeking an accurate diagnosis from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Trying to ignore or wish anxiety away is rarely effective. More often, the anxiety will control your life rather than you controlling the anxiety. Generally, adequate treatment of panic disorder combines both psychotherapy(counseling), and medication. Through counseling, sleep and diet should be assessed as problems with either can cause or worsen anxiety.

Treatment may include marital or family therapy. Interpersonal problems with spouses and/or family may serve to perpetuate anxiety and undermine the success of treatment until these issues are addressed. Family therapy also aids family members through education and helps with understanding and support for the family member struggling with anxiety. (top)

If you suspect that you, or someone you know, suffer from this potentially crippling illness, treatment is available. Seek help from a psychologist or physician for help with an accurate diagnosis.

***As with any psychological disorder, do not consider information found on the internet sufficient in diagnosing or managing your condition. It can be used to find appropriate treatment from a healthcare professional. If in need of help, please call Dr. Austin at 972-986-0150, or if an emergency, always call 911.

Karla Austin, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

2701 W. Irving Blvd # 170189 • Irving, Texas 75015 972-986-0150

Conveniently located in Irving, between Dallas and Fort Worth, and near Coppell, Grand Prairie,
Grapevine, Hurst, Euless, Bedford, Lewisville, Arlington, Keller, Richland Hills, and the DFW Airport and now remote due to Telehealth.