Featured Mental health Wellness

Understanding anxiety disorders

Anxious woman
Monica Matys
Written by Monica Matys

Anxiety disorders are the most common class of mental disorders, affecting about one quarter of people. They are challenging because they often develop early in life and tend to persist if not treated, says Dr. Nik Grujich, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. He was one of several presenters at the latest Speaker Series discussion, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) & Anxiety: Can I Reduce My Risk?

Typically, anxiety disorders develop along with other mental health issues or substance abuse disorders. These include:

  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • agoraphobia
  • social anxiety disorder
  • specific phobia
  • illness anxiety disorder
  • OCD
  • post traumatic stress disorder

While there are many different types of anxiety disorders, Dr. Grujich says they share some common threads. There is a thought process that embellishes the fear or danger associated with certain situations or things. Typically, there are also behaviours that ensue that contribute to perpetuate the anxiety. He says safety behaviours or avoidance are common. Not surprisingly, anxiety disorders can have a negative impact on many aspects of a person’s life, including work and the ability to socialize.

So how does someone develop anxiety? Dr. Grujich says different components may come into play, including genetic influences and exposure to stressful events, like early losses. Temperament can also be a factor, as some people have a higher tendency to worry.

Experiencing anxiety – or the capacity to worry – is normal for everyone. But as with all human behaviours, there is a spectrum. When someone’s anxiety becomes functionally impairing, he says that’s when it’s time to seek medical attention.

The first step is to talk to your family doctor. It will be important to discuss your symptoms and do a complete work up to make sure you don’t have a non-anxiety based physical issue. From there, possible pathways forward may include medications and/or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy where negative patterns of thought are challenged to try and change unwanted behaviours. In short, it aims to give patients the skills to cope, and can be done alone or in small groups.

Importantly, Dr. Grujich says effective strategies are available, and that anxiety is treatable.

» Watch the webcast to hear from Dr. Grujich and the full panel of speakers

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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