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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders, affecting one in four Australians at some stage in their life. Women are more likely to develop anxiety than men, but it is not clear why. There are many forms of anxiety disorder but the one thing they have in common is their impact on day-to-day activities.

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks at work, home or school. People with anxiety disorders often feel compelled to avoid stressful situations and in extreme cases avoid going out altogether. Physical symptoms are common and include shortness of breath, a pounding heart and trembling hands.

The most common anxiety disorders are:

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) involves chronic and constant excessive worry and anticipation of disaster in every area of life. Symptoms include insomnia, headaches, sweatiness, fatigue, trembling, hot flushes and difficulty swallowing.

Panic disorder involves repeated and sudden panic attacks characterised by pounding heart, weakness, dizziness, tingling, chest pain, nausea, choking, terror, fear of loss of control and impending doom.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after terrifying events such as violent attacks, natural disasters, accidents and experience of war. The symptoms include persistent frightening thoughts and memories of the ordeal, sleep problems and traumatic nightmares, emotional numbness, loss of interest and motivation, and even aggression and violence.

Social phobia involves overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in ordinary social situations. Sufferers are so nervous and fearful of being judged by others and are so embarrassed by themselves that the condition affects work, school and friendships. Symptoms include trembling, nausea, blushing and sweating.

Specific phobias are irrational and extreme fears of a thing that is actually little or no danger, which lead the sufferer to go to extreme lengths to avoid the object of fear. Some examples are fear of flying, tunnels, water, dogs, spiders, heights, rodents, blood.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves anxious thoughts and rituals that control the sufferer’s life and compel them to stave off disaster through acting out certain behaviours according to specific rules. It takes many different forms, but the feelings of intense anxiety and the need to act out rituals to relieve the anxiety are common to each.

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