by National Institute of Mental Health

Everybody knows what it's like to feel anxious -- the butterflies in your stomach before a first date, the tension you feel when boss is angry, the way your heart pounds if you are in danger. Anxiety rouses you to action. It gears you up to threatening situations. It makes you study harder for that exam, and keeps you on your toes when you're making a speech. In general, it helps you cope.

But if you have an anxiety disorder, this normally helpful emotion can do just the opposite--it can keep you from coping and can disrupt your daily life. Anxiety disorders aren't just a case of "nerves." They are illnesses, often related to the biological make-up and life experiences of the individual, and they frequently occur in families. There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with it's own distinct features.

An anxiety disorder may make you feel anxious most of the time, without any apparent reason. Or the anxious feelings can be so uncomfortable that to avoid them you may stop everyday activities, or you may have occasional bouts of anxiety so intense they are terrifying and they immobilize you.

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental disorders, at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Federal Agency that conducts and supports research related to mental disorders, mental health, and the brain, scientists are learning more and more about the notoriety of anxiety disorders, their causes, and how to alleviate them. NIMH also conducts educational outreach activities about anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses.

Many people misunderstand these disorders, they think individuals should be able to overcome the symptoms by sheer willpower. Wishing the symptoms away does not work--but treatment can help. That's why NIMH has produced this pamphlet - to help you understand these conditions, describe their treatments, explain the role of research in conquering anxiety and other mental disorders.

This brochure gives brief explanation of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder (which is sometimes accompanied by agoraphobia), specific phobias, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Detailed information on some of these anxiety disorders is available through or other resources. (See the listings at the end of this pamphlet.)


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) conducts and supports research nationwide on mental illness and mental health, including studies of the brain, behavior, and mental health services. NIMH is a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIMH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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