Fear is an important human emotion. When we perceive something that threatens our wellbeing or the wellbeing of those we love, fear readies our bodies to run away! That’s why fear involves so many physical symptoms such as racing heart and shortness of breath. Anxiety is a lot like fear except that it anticipates danger that is not yet present and urges us to avoid it.
Fear and anxiety have been keeping our species safe for millions of years, but phobias and anxiety disorders cause a tremendous discomfort and unhappiness. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United states, affecting almost one out of five American adults each year and more than one in four Americans during their lifetimes. Anxiety disorders are present when a person’s fear or anxiety is out of proportion with any real threat and causes impairment in educational, vocational, or relational functioning.
Anxiety disorders include separation anxiety (in childhood), selective mutism (a child’s refusal to speak in most social contexts), specific phobias (e.g. fear of heights, flying, or blood), social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia (fear of public places), and generalized anxiety.