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Anxiety is a normal human emotion that can help to keep you safe or alert you to areas of your life that may need to change.  Adaptive anxiety is short-term and situation-specific, such as anxiety about an upcoming test or job interview.  This type of anxiety motivates you to study or to prepare for potential setbacks.  Maladaptive anxiety is more enduring and can interfere with activities of daily living, such as work or school.  Individuals experiencing maladaptive anxiety may be struggling with an Anxiety Disorder.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Excessive amounts of anxiety or worry that is present for long periods of time and is difficult to control.  The anxiety causes distress and interferes with activities of daily living, such as sleeping, concentrating at work or school, or being able to complete tasks.

Social Anxiety Disorder: Excessive amounts of anxiety about social situations.  The individual may believe that others are watching them or judging them harshly, and the level of anxiety is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the social situation.  The anxiety leads to avoidance of social situations or intense distress during the social situation.

Specific Phobia: Intense fear of a specific object or situation (such as flying, needles, or snakes) that is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by that object or situation.  The anxiety causes high levels of distress and/or avoidance of the object in a way that may cause problems in important areas of life (such as avoiding seeking medical care due to a fear of needles).

Panic Disorder: Recurrent panic attacks that seem to occur out of nowhere.  A panic attack is an abrupt increase in anxiety that is often accompanied by an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), tightness in the chest, nausea, dizziness, and/or a fear of losing control or going crazy.  The panic attacks are accompanied by a fear of having additional panic attacks.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Obsessions are intrusive thoughts that are recurrent and persistent, but unwanted.  The thoughts may go against the person’s values, cause high levels of distress, and be difficult to ignore.  Compulsions are behaviors a person feels compelled to engage in repeatedly to reduce anxiety or distress, or to prevent something bad from happening.  The behaviors may be time-consuming and may not be related to the problem they are designed to prevent.

If you believe you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, contact the Counseling Center at 919.515.2423, or come in person to set up your initial appointment. The informational resources below can help you determine if what you are feeling is maladaptive anxiety and provide you with information about how various types of anxiety disorders are treated. You may also want to complete an online screening for anxiety.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Treatment for anxiety disorders usually involves a combination of strategies for challenging irrational thoughts, skills for regulating emotions and reducing distress, and a treatment called Exposure and Response Prevention.

Online Resources about Anxiety

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides information about anxiety, resources for finding help, and educational resources for coping with anxiety.

The International OCD Foundation provides information about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and related disorders, fact and myth sheets, and resources for finding treatment and support.

The National Institute of Mental Health provides definitions and descriptions of various anxiety disorders, as well as descriptions of various treatment options. describes practical steps for recognizing and coping with stress and anxiety. has resources specific to college students.

Book Recommendations

Antony, M. M., & Swinson, R. P. (2008). The shyness and social anxiety workbook: Proven, step-by-step techniques for overcoming your fear. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Bourne, E. J. (2011). The anxiety and phobia workbook (5th edition). Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Hyman, B. (2010). OCD Workbook: Your guide to breaking free from obsessive compulsive disorder. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.