Explaining Anxiety Disorders

Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) Psychoanalytic Theory proposed that beginning in childhood, people repress intolerable impulses, ideas and feelings, and this submerged mental energy sometimes produces mystifying symptoms such as anxiety. Many of todays psychologists have turned to two contemporary prospectives – learning and biological – for more complete understanding.

The Learning Perspective

When bad situations happen, unpredictably and uncontrollably, anxiety often develops (Chorpita & Barlow, 1998). Researchers have linked this to fear and general anxiety. Assault victims report feeling anxious when entering their own neighborhood. For many victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety increases with any reminder of their trauma. In one survey, 58 percent of those with social phobia experienced their disorder after a traumatic event (Ott & Hugdail, 1981).

Fears Can Multiply

As a result of these reminders, frightening events can multiply into a a great many fears. For example, your car was once struck by another whose driver missed a stop sign, For months afterward, you feel a twinge whenever you see a car approach from a side street.

Once phobias and compulsion arise, reinforcement helps maintain them. Escaping the feared situation lowers anxiety, thus reinforcing the phobic behavior. Feeling anxious or fearing a panic attack, a person may retreat back into the house, and be reinforced by calmed anxiety (Anthony Et al., 1992).

The Biological Perspective

There is, however, more to anxiety than simple conditioning or observed learning, as evidenced from how few people develop lasting phobias after suffering traumas.

Twins Can Share Phobias

Some individuals seem predisposed to high anxiety as a result of heredity. Vulnerability to anxiety rises when the afflicted relative is an identical twin (Barlow Et al., 1988-2002). Identical twins often develop similar phobias, in some cases even when raised separately (Carey 1990, Eckert et al, 1981). One pair of 35-year-old female identical twins independently developed claustrophobia, a fear of having no escape or being closed-in that can lead to a panic attack.

Brain scans of people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) reveal elevated activity in specific brain areas associated with behaviors such as compulsive hand washing, or hoarding (Mataix-Cols Et al., 2005).

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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