Introduction to Anxiety Disorders, OCD, and PTSD

What you’ll learn to do: describe the features and characteristic symptoms of anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias), obsessive-compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder; differentiate these anxiety disorders from each other

Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders in which a person experiences excessive, persistent, and distressing fear and anxiety that interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include specific phobia: a specific unrealistic fear; social anxiety disorder: extreme fear and avoidance of social situations; panic disorder: suddenly overwhelmed by panic even though there is no apparent reason to be frightened; agoraphobia: an intense fear and avoidance of situations in which it might be difficult to escape; and generalized anxiety disorder: a relatively continuous state of tension, apprehension, and dread.

Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders like body dysmorphic disorder or hoarding are a group of DSM-5 disorders that overlap somewhat in that they each involve intrusive thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors that also typically cause anxiousness. Perhaps the most recognized of these disorders is obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which a person is obsessed with unwanted, unpleasant thoughts and/or compulsively engages in repetitive behaviors or mental acts, perhaps as a way of coping with the obsessions.

Although related to anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder is now classified as a “Trauma-and-Stressor-Related Disorder.” PTSD is defined as a disorder in which the experience of a traumatic or profoundly stressful event, such as combat, sexual assault, or natural disaster, produces a constellation of symptoms that must last for one month or more. These symptoms include intrusive and distressing memories of the event, flashbacks, avoidance of stimuli or situations that are connected to the event, persistently negative emotional states, feeling detached from others, irritability, proneness toward outbursts, and a tendency to be easily startled. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD; a variety of risk factors associated with its development have been identified.

Learning Objectives

  • Distinguish normal anxiety from pathological anxiety
  • Explain phobias and their acquisition through learning
  • Describe the main features of social anxiety disorder
  • Explain panic disorder and panic attacks
  • Describe the symptoms and prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder
  • Describe the main features, development, and prevalence of obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and hoarding disorder
  • Describe the nature, development, symptoms, and risk factors associated with posttraumatic stress disorder