Source: Spider; Public Domain http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASpider-phobia.jpg
Anxiety disorders are disorders in which a person feels nervous or uneasy in some kind of pervasive, or particularly strong, or unnecessary way, which can impair their life in some way as a result. And it can cause psychological stress on the person, as well as physical symptoms. Things like sweating, rapid heart rate, an upset stomach, dizziness, and trouble concentrating in their lives.
In this lesson, we're going to be talking about two specific types of anxiety disorders that are likely familiar to you. They're ones that are pretty pervasive in our society. A lot of people tend to talk about these, and they are phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder, or what we call OCD.
First, phobia comes from the Greek word "phobos," which is the Greek word for fear. It's also the name of the Greek god of fear. When we say a phobia, or a specific phobia, as we're going to talk about right now, it's any kind of strong, irrational fear of specific things or situations. So in other words, it's things that we might not otherwise fear or have anxiety about.
For example, one specific phobia you might have is hematophobia, which is a fear of blood. Or you might have a coulrophobia, which is a fear of clowns. So both of these are phobias of things that we don't really need to be afraid of, in any kind of way. Sure, you might actually get sick if you get somebody's blood inside of you, but as a whole, blood is not something that you should be worried about. It's not going to threaten you physically. Same thing with clowns, generally.
Specific phobias can also refer to things where we might have a fear that's far too strong then we really should have. For example, arachnophobia is a fear of spiders, which is something that we might be afraid of because spiders can hurt you. However, a person that has arachnophobia can have a serious, or even debilitating, reaction. For example, if they see a spider, they might run screaming, and not be able to control themselves until they get away from a spider. So we're talking about an extreme form of anxiety or fear when we talk about phobias.
Personally, I have what we would call acrophobia, which is a fear of heights. So when I get into very high places, especially when it's out in the open, I can freeze up, and I cannot move. You can see how that's a very strong reaction towards heights. Or sometimes, for example when I was on a theme park ride, I lost control of my body, and actually collapsed onto the ground, as a result of being up in a high place. So you can see how these reactions can be very strong, and they can be debilitating in certain ways.
So remember, when we talk about mental disorders, we're talking about extreme reactions that can cause harmful events or effects in a person's life.
One common type of phobia that we could talk about is social phobia, which is a fear of being in social situations, and interacting with others in a public place. It's going to have adverse consequences to a person. For example, if you have a social phobia, you might just decide to stay at home all the time. You might avoid others. So as a result, you're not building those personal relationships. You're not going out, and talking and meeting with other people. So it can impair you socially throughout your life.
Phobias can be treated through different kinds of treatments, like desensitization, which is a behavioral treatment where a person is gradually and increasingly exposed to the thing that they're afraid of. For example, if I'm afraid of spiders, if I have arachnophobia, then I might first be shown a picture of a spider. And I might get used to that first. Then I might be placed in a room with a spider across the room. Gradually I'd get closer to it. Eventually I might be exposed to another person who's holding the spider, and then, if I could get to this point, I might actually hold the spider myself. So this gradual exposure to the thing you're afraid of helps to teach you that it's not something you should necessarily be afraid of. Or at least not to that degree.
Another type of anxiety disorder is obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, as we'll abbreviate it. This is a disorder where a person becomes especially preoccupied with certain kinds of thoughts or feelings, and has a strong motivation, or almost feels a requirement, to perform certain kinds of actions, often as a result of these thoughts and feelings that they're being preoccupied with. These thoughts and feelings, which we call obsessions, are often unwanted, and they can be intrusive. It might not be something that you actually want or enjoy. And oftentimes it can intrude on, or it can invade, your general everyday thoughts, and it can create intense feelings of anxiety or worry in a person.
Usually these thoughts are very negative. For example, a person might constantly have a concern or fear of being hurt by something. Or they might constantly feel unclean, and feel like they have to get clean in some way. And so these feelings often lead to the creation of compulsions. Compulsions are any kind of actions that a person performs repeatedly, to reduce these feelings of anxiety that they have.
Now usually, these compulsions are irrational. In other words, the actions don't actually prevent anything, but they help to distract the person, or to push those thoughts out of their mind in some way. For example, a person might have a sudden fear of being hurt, that goes away when they count certain kinds of things, like heart beats or footsteps. Sometimes it can be done in a certain kind of way, or in a certain number. For example, they might have to count things in threes, or they have to open and shut the door three times when they move in. These are compulsions that result from the obsession that they have about being hurt, which isn't necessarily something that's coming from something within the environment.
Another form of obsessive compulsive disorder is hoarding, which is an example of a compulsive behavior. So a person feels the need to keep everything, or they feel the need to keep certain types of things. They might feel like they really need to keep every kind of cereal box to keep away their obsessions, and those anxious thoughts that they have.
A lot of times, OCD is treated with treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, where the person learns to refrain from certain kinds of compulsive behavior-- so they hold back from doing them-- and to recognize these irrational thought processes. So gradually, this person will learn to reduce their stress and their anxiety towards those kinds of things, and to realize the compulsions don't necessarily help with the things that they're worried about, and the obsessions aren't necessarily things that will harm them in any kind of way.