What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal human response to a stressful or unusual situation. It can occur whenever we are exposed to a new or frightening situation. While unpleasant at first, anxiety can have positive results at it can often motivate us to challenge ourselves to try new and different activities.

If we succeed in the new activity it can have a positive impact on self-esteem. An anxiety disorder, however, is a prolonged state of anxiety, one that lasts at least 6 months, and can contribute to harmful and lasting physical and mental health issues.

Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty. Anxiety disorders can get worse if they are not treated. Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In some cases, these other illnesses need to be treated before a person will respond to treatment for the anxiety disorder. *

Signs and Symptoms

  • A feeling of being worried or afraid of nothing in particular
  • An unrealistic fear of everyday occurrences
  • A persistent feeling of dread or doom
  • Constant mental agitation
  • A feeling of having nervous energy
  • Persistent irritability
  • Constantly checking on things like appliances or locks
  • An uncontrollable urge to count things
  • Fear of things that never caused fear before
  • Increased isolation and fear of going out of doors
  • Tightness in chest or difficulty breathing that a medical professional has ruled out as a heart attack or other heart ailment
  • Intense fears that develop following a seriously distressing event such as war, sexual or other physical assault, serious threats of harm to self or others
  • Experiencing flashbacks, or reliving a traumatic event from the past as if it was happening in the present

Types of Anxiety Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.*


Phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that actually poses little or no threat. While adults with phobias realize that these fears are irrational, they often find that facing, or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety. *

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a real illness that is characterized by sudden feelings of terror or doom. A person experiencing panic might become flushed or feel clammy or cold. Tingling or numbness in the hands is common as is tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and nausea.

Symptoms of panic attacks are frequently mistaken for signs of a heart attack, and millions of people each year make unnecessary trips to the emergency room because of the difficulty in discerning the difference.

Over 6 million Americans experience panic attacks. The first signs of the disorder often appear in late adolescence or early adulthood. Women are twice as likely as men to experience this condition.

Not everyone who has a panic attack will develop panic disorder, but panic attacks can increase if left untreated. Often the fear of having a panic attack can trigger another panic attack to occur, and cause people to try to avoid the things they associate with the panic attack. Some people restrict so many of their activities, they are no longer able to perform activities of daily living. Panic disorder is easily treated if it is caught in its early stages.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

People with PTSD may startle easily, become emotionally numb (especially in relation to people with whom they used to be close), lose interest in things they used to enjoy, have trouble feeling affectionate, be irritable, become more aggressive, or even become violent.

Most people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep. These are called flashbacks. Flashbacks may consist of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, and are often triggered by ordinary occurrences, such as a door slamming or a car backfiring on the street. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.

Request Treatment

If you would like more information or an assessment by a mental health professional you can contact Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services at

1-866-682-2166 or e-mail at counseling@camdendiocese.org

* National Institute of Mental Health