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What Is the Connection between Anxiety Disorders and Phobias?

Anxiety disorders and phobias are connected because phobias are, by definition, anxiety disorders. They are also related because other anxiety disorders feature significant amounts of challenging and irrational fear. Phobias tend to involve fears of very specific things. Anxiety disorders other than phobias may have more diverse fears and are symptomatic most of the time.

In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals™ (DSM), only some of the anxiety disorders are specifically termed "phobic disorders." These are agoraphobia, specific phobia, and social phobia. The rest of the anxiety disorders often include irrational fear as a symptom, but they tend to have additional, diagnostically relevant elements.

Agoraphobia is the fear of being in enclosed spaces or areas from which an escape is not easy. A specific phobia can relate to fear of a certain thing like animals, medical procedures, or flying. Social phobia is the fear of speaking in public or being in public.

In the above conditions, symptoms of fear often resolve in the absence of the thing or situation that causes them. For instance, a person with social phobia might be completely comfortable at home or in a family circle. In many other anxiety disorders, symptoms persist most of the time.

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For example, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) frequently involves irrational fear. Frightening, obsessive thoughts must be followed by compulsive behaviors. Most people with OCD have relatively constant fears dominating their lives, and are symptomatic much of the time. This isn’t really comparable to the more limited symptoms of phobic disorders.

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worry excessively and constantly. They cannot shut off their fears, which may involve many different subjects and themes. This ongoing worry and the other symptoms present with GAD like poor sleep, irritability, and muscle tension, suggest that anxiety disorders and phobias have important differences.

Some of the anxiety disorders and phobias are more closely related. For example, panic disorder is an overwhelming fear that additional panic attacks will occur. This fear is constant, but it is also specific. Some people affected with panic disorder may significantly adjust their behavior or habits to avoid attacks, and they can develop agoraphobia.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder (ASD) have some connections to specific phobias as well. They usually arise in response to very unambiguous circumstances. Many specific phobias arise from traumatic events, which aren’t necessarily as resonant or easily identifiable as the events or circumstances causing PTSD and ASD. Sometimes people with PTSD and ASD later develop a specific phobia.

Anxiety disorders and phobias are always related in the sense that phobias are a type of anxiety disorder. All of these disorders result in suffering, feature extraordinary amounts of fear, and tend to respond to treatment. Differences between anxiety disorders and phobias are their constancy of expression, various symptoms, and individual diagnostic features.

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