It is common to hear people talk about having “anxiety,” being “stressed,” or having a “panic attack.” But those terms carry very different meanings for different people.

Anxiety can be described as falling on a continuum. Some people, who fall on the far end of the continuum, have anxiety that is severe enough to merit a clinical diagnosis, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Some, who fall in the middle of the continuum, may not meet criteria for an Anxiety Disorder, but nevertheless may have anxiety that is troubling and difficult to manage. Still others may usually feel relatively calm, falling on the low end of the continuum, but may notice a sharp increase in anxiety due to a pronounced life stressor.

Some people can identify a clear trigger for their anxiety episodes, while others cannot. Most likely, some combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the onset of anxiety problems.
Anxiety disorders that are clinically diagnosable (as per the DSM-IV) include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder (with and without agoraphobia)
  • Specific Phobia
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Acute Stress Disorder