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Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology: Anxiety Disorders Term Paper

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019


Throughout our lifetime, we often find ourselves in situations that challenge us physically, mentally or both. How we perceive and subsequently react to these challenges differs and in some cases, our reaction may have detrimental health implications to our lives. Considering that life is full of unknown, everyone is bound to get anxious or stressed out at one point in time.

Both these conditions pose a serious threat to the mental as well as the physical well being of a person. This being the case, it is a worthwhile endeavor to take some time out to explore the causes effects and solutions to these conditions. However, this paper shall specifically shed some light on anxiety disorders. Under this topic, the types, causes symptoms and possible solutions to this disorder shall be duly addressed.

Anxiety disorders: A brief overview

Imagine a situation whereby you suddenly feel as though your heart is pumping faster, every muscle in your body muscles is tightening, surrounding walls are closing in on you and everything around you is falling apart. You experience shortness of breath and start perspiring rapidly.

This is a classical example of an anxiety attack. Bernstein (2010) defines anxiety as a situation/state of discomfort, worry, fear or nervousness that results from the anticipation of a potentially risky or threatening situation. According to Bernstein (2010), anxiety disorders have in the recent past been classified as being among the most prominent psychological disorders in the United States.

This bleak reality can be attributed to the fact that most people experience compromising situations in their lives. For example, during a job interview, giving a speech in an unfamiliar or crowded place, or even meeting a long lot friend after a long time. While such situations may seem as moments of weakness, they are life threatening to a person suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Types of anxiety disorders

It should be noted that while it is not uncommon for a person to feel on edge or be afraid and uncomfortable in different situations, anxiety disorders often represent different experiences to the person suffering from them.

According to Comer (2010), common symptoms of anxiety disorders include but are not limited to chronic and exaggerated levels of fear and uneasiness that in hinder an individual from leading a normal life. In his book, the author sheds some light on the four main types of anxiety disorders. They are; generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, Phobias, and obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD).

Generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD can simply be described as a frequent and continuous form of anxiety that lasts for a month or more. According to Comer (2010), people with this type of disorder are always uneasy, worried and in most cases, preoccupied with feelings that things are about to go wrong (feelings of doom). In addition, the author states that such people often worry about everything even without having a logical justification for such worries. As a result, they experience high levels of stress and are unable to function normally.

Some of the physical reactions attributed to this psychiatric condition include but are not limited to dizziness, moodiness, isolative tendencies, jitters, and trembling among others. Some of the documented symptoms of this disorder include, tension of the muscles, uneasiness, inability to concentrate, irritability, sleep disturbance and fatigue. Weiten Dunn and Hammer (2011), state that most people will have three or more of these symptoms.

So the question that is left begging is: how do you know that it is GAD? Consider this, most people experience stage freight, others find it uncomfortable to start conversations and a majority of people get jitters whenever they are faced with a new and potentially challenging situation.

To answer this logical question, Comer (2010) states that in GAD, these symptoms persist for a period of six or more months, regardless of the situation. In addition, Comer (2010) sheds some light on some specific perspectives that can help psychiatric experts understand GAD more, all the while enabling them to trace the causes, effects and treatment of this condition. The perspectives as outlined by Comer (2010) are:

The sociocultural perspective

According to the author, social anxiety refers to a situation whereby a person is incapable of functioning normally in a social setting. To put this statement in context, imagine a situation whereby your mind is always preoccupied with thought of how other people perceive you.

This is the case with social anxiety disorder SAD. The sufferers of this condition have an acute fear of scrutiny from the people that surround them. Considering the fact that society is as a result of our day to day interactions, people with SAD are often depressed, suicidal and are more likely to indulge in alcoholism and other anti-social tendencies.

The psychodynamic perspective

This perspective tries to relate GAD to human behavior in regard to conscious and unconscious mind processes. Comer (2010), states that in his view, GAD emanates from an indication of danger which can only be explained by thoroughly analyzing the personality and life experiences of the sufferer.

Humanistic perspective

This perspective views abnormal human tendencies as a result of an individual’s inability to find meaning in his/her life or, failure to achieve his/ her greatest potential. According to Weiten, Dunn and Hammer (2011), mental health and personal development come naturally to human beings. As such, the authors argue that human beings have an innate drive towards self-realization, self-actualization and fulfillment. In this view, a person is therefore mentally ill when circumstances in his/her environment block this drive.

Cognitive perspective

This perspective holds that psychological problems are brought about by maladaptive and dysfunctional thinking (Comer, 2010). As regarding to GAD, Comer (2010) states that this condition comes about as a result of an individual developing unrealistic silent thoughts and then interpreting them as imminent danger.

This statement is true and applicable in real life situations. For example, a person may go to into an elevator and as soon as it starts moving, he/she becomes anxious or nervous. This is mainly due to the fact that they think bad things will happen in the elevator and as a result, he/she view the elevator as a dangerous place to be in. consequently, he/she exhibit the symptoms of GAD.

Biological perspective

Some psychologists and behavioral analysts believe that human behavior is in some instances inherited from blood relatives. This assumption is supported by many family pedigree studies which indicate that close blood relatives are 15% more likely to inherit GAD as compared to the 4% that represent people from the general public (Comer, 2010). In addition, GABA inactivity which is biologically inherited can cause GAD since the inhibitor cannot effectively stop neurons from firing.


Phobias can best be described as unrelenting and unexplainable fears for objects, activities or events. Statistics presented by Comer (2010) indicate that on average, 10% of adults across the world have a phobia and 14% of the total population in America, develop a phobia in their life. In addition, Comer (2010), states that phobias are twice as common in women as they are in men. Phobic people have a tendency to avoid their phobias and strive hard not to think about them.

For example, I am afraid of spiders and small rodents, in as much as people tell me that they do not pose any imminent danger to my life, I cannot shake the feeling that they are always out to get me as well as gross. Over the years, I have tried to justify my fear towards these creatures but I cannot explain it verbally. However, I always feel nervous and unsettled whenever I encounter them.

There are two main types of phobias: social phobias and agorophobias. According to Comer (2010), social phobias refer to severe fears that arise due to social interactions and public situations in which the chances to get embarrassed are high. The author further states that this type of phobia affects normal functions and often starts during childhood.

In addition, many people develop two or more phobias in their lives. Comer (2010), states that most phobias are as a result of imitation, classic conditioning and a continuous avoidance to the object or situation. For example, if you have never boarded an airplane, chances are that you will develop a phobia for flying in later years. This can best be explained by some Africans who fear flying simply because they do not understand the dynamics behind the airplane, as well as the fact that they have never flown before.

Panic disorder

This is another form of anxiety disorders. Panic attacks refer to sudden, recurrent and unexpected bouts of intense fear that arise as a result of an individual’s anticipation that something bad will happen (Bernstein, 2010). They are often followed by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart racing, and tremors.

Consider this scenario: you are relaxing at home when suddenly; a friend calls you and tells you that an important meeting has been rescheduled and is presently being held at your office. The aforementioned physical symptoms always set in immediately, and your mind is unable to process information as fast as you would like. This is a good example of a panic attack and it happens more often than we would like to believe.

However, it should be noted that people suffering from panic disorders have this feeling constantly and are less likely to control these bouts regardless the intensity of the situation. As Comer (2010) suggests, panic attacks can be caused by biological factors such as reduced levels of Norepinephrine which affects our brain’s capacity to respond and be attentive.

In addition, the author states that there may be cognitive causes such as misinterpretation of bodily events. For example, some people are too sensitive to touch. As such, when you touch such a person, his/her brain views that as a threat thereby throwing him into a panic attack. However, panic attacks are curably through therapy and antidepressant drugs.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD can be defined as “an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions) (NIMH, 2011, p.1).” as a result of these obsessions, the sufferer often results to repetitive behaviors such as counting, cleaning, hand washing among others, in a bid to divert their attention from these thoughts.

However, performing these rituals offers a temporary solution and if the sufferer does not do them, his/her level of anxiety increases. As a result, you find an individual performing these rituals repetitively and more frequently so as to avoid these unwanted and recurrent thoughts.

Comer (2010), states that OCD differs from other anxiety disorders in the sense that the battle does not occur in the unconscious but rather, it manifests itself through explicit thoughts and actions. Similarly, the author further contends that there are psychological perspectives that explain the causes of this disorder.

The psychodynamic perspective implies that anxiety disorders come into play when children fear their id impulses and as a result, use their ego as a defense mechanism to reduce their anxiety levels (Comer, 2010). From a behavioral point of view, situation in life force people into compulsions.

For example, in a fearful situation, an individual may find that washing his/her hands relaxes and lessens his/her anxiety. When the situation passes, they end up associating the progress to the action that helped alleviate the situation. After doing this several time, they end up believing that the random act (hand washing for example) changes the situation. There are several therapeutic and medical treatments for OCD. Behavioral therapy, which focuses on treating compulsion, has proven to be a success in the recent years.


This paper has gone on to reiterate the fact that anxiety disorders are indeed a reality in life and as such, we should brace ourselves for their occurrences. The motivation of this paper has been to document various problems that stem from these disorders.

To this end, the various problems that can emanate from different types of anxiety disorders if left unchecked have been outlined. It is hoped that in light of this information, one need no longer look at anxiety disorders bleakly since they are not terminal in nature and real solutions do exist to the problem.


Bernstein, D. (2010). Essentials of Psychology. New York: Cengage Learning.

Comer, R.J. (2010). Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology. California: Worth Publishers.

NIMH. (2011). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD. Retrieved from:

Weiten, W., Dunn, D., & Hammer, E. (2011). Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century. New York: Cengage Learning.

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