Anxiety & Panic Disorder: What Is It?

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Anxiety & Panic Disorder: What Is It?
Anxiety & Panic Disorder: What Is It?

Anxiety & Panic Disorder: What is it?

Fear is very important for a healthy life. Fear protects: If something is perceived as threatening and appears unpredictable, people are naturally afraid and therefore escape dangers or can meet them appropriately. Body and mind switch to "fight or flight mode". Rapid movements are prepared, for example by increasing blood flow, breathing and muscle tension. But a shock reaction that “paralyzes” and shocks is also possible…


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  • ">Fear as a vital feeling


  • Danger as pleasure - looking for the "thrill"
  • A question of extent
  • Physical signs
  • Anxiety and panic as illness
  • Anxiety disorders - a common phenomenon
  • Models of the development of anxiety disorders


Fear as a vital feeling

Nowadays there are often no ways to counter fear with movement that can reduce it again. You then sit stick and stiff and tense - the natural abreaction hardly takes place. The stressful thing about fear is not the feeling itself, but the lack of control over it. Permanent stress in the negative sense represents a serious health risk. For more information, see Stress & Recovery.

Without fears, humans would not be able to survive. This “applied” willingness to fear potentially dangerous situations such as altitude, spiders, etc. is the basis on which pathological fears can arise. But it is not only the “biological program” that shapes human existence, but also socially or culturally learned behaviors. In addition, fear is an existential feeling and accompanies people for a lifetime. It points to the finiteness of life and draws attention to unpleasant aspects. In this way, it contributes in a healthy way to appreciating existence and being able to enjoy the beautiful as the opposite pole.

Danger as pleasure - looking for the "thrill"

Some people are literally looking for “thrill” and danger - for example in bungee jumping - and experience fear as something pleasurable. If someone loves a dangerous adventure, they are often referred to as an “adrenaline junkie”, as the hormone adrenaline is increasingly released in dangerous situations. The relaxing thing about it is consciously seeking out the situation, mastering it and then releasing the feeling of tension. Passive “cheering along”, for example when watching a thriller on television or in the cinema, can create the desired excitement.

A question of extent

Anxiety increases concentration in tricky situations such as a crucial test or a difficult mountain tour. If it is not too strong, it can be a motivator and enhance performance. Too much, on the other hand, impairs thinking, concentration and behavior up to a complete blockage or panic short-circuit reaction (e.g. suicide attempt). This means that the feeling of fear can be conducive or blocking - depending on the extent. Long-lasting strong fears gradually wear off. Sleep disorders or depression can arise, for example, on the basis of an anxiety disorder.

If all thinking breaks down and a targeted action is no longer possible, one speaks of panic, as it breaks out, for example, in the event of a catastrophe (earthquake etc.). In this there is only one wish, namely that of escape. If this cannot be implemented (e.g. in the case of crowds of people with few opportunities to escape), the feeling of panic of one or more people increases (mass panic).

Physical signs

Like other feelings, fear is physically perceptible. Whether palpitations, sweat, tremors or a lump in the throat - this emotion leaves no one indifferent. Put simply: there is no fear without associated physical sensations. However, these are not clearly noticeable for everyone.

Anxiety and panic as illness

In anxiety disorders, massive fear reactions occur, although there are no acute extreme threats and dangers, or these persist after a real dangerous situation. Other signs of anxiety disorders include loss of control over anxious feelings, strong accompanying physical symptoms, and avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations. As a result, life is - in some cases severely - impaired, and those affected are under stressful suffering.

Several diseases are grouped together under the umbrella term “anxiety and panic disorders”. A distinction is made between fear that is independent of an object or a situation (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder) and fear that is dependent on an object or situation (phobia, e.g. social phobia). A panic attack results in recurring anxiety attacks - accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat or dizziness.

For more information on the classification of anxiety disorders, see Diagnosis and Therapy of Anxiety Disorders.

Anxiety disorders - a common phenomenon

Around ten percent of the general population suffer from anxiety disorders. Social and specific phobias (of very specific things, e.g. spiders) occur particularly often. Women are affected more often than men. Those who suffer from an anxiety disorder run the risk of developing other mental illnesses (alcohol addiction, depression) or an additional anxiety disorder.

Models of the development of anxiety disorders

There are many different models that explain the development of anxiety disorders, e.g.

  • Behavioral model: fear as a learned behavior

  • Neurobiological model: genetic predisposition (increased risk), changes in the neurotransmitter metabolism, etc.

  • Cognitive model: thoughts as the cause of fears

  • Systemic model: disorders in relationships (family, partnership, professional environment) as a trigger for fears

  • Psychoanalytic model: fear as a consequence of an (unconscious) conflict or, for example, from fear of attachment

  • Humanistic model: the self cannot develop sufficiently - self-realization is threatened - fears are the result. An imbalance between dependence and independence leads to internal conflict.

Anxiety disorders often arise for several of these reasons and must be viewed and treated individually.

In summary, it can be said: a life without fears is neither sensible nor possible. Not avoiding, but coping with fears has a positive effect on health. If fear determines life and if it is a burden for those affected, rapid professional help is necessary.

Note Anxiety disorders can increase the risk of suicide. For more information on suicide prevention, see Recognizing the risk of suicide.

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