Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States. In any given year approximately 19% of the adult population suffers from one of the six major anxiety disorders. They are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Phobias, Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. A comprehensive description of each of these conditions is beyond the scope of this article. Only about one fifth of individuals seeks treatment for anxiety disorders. The cost of these disorders on the country as a whole is estimated at 50 billion dollars in health care expenses, lost wages, and lower productivity.
In the psychological sense there is a difference between “fear” and “anxiety”. Fear can be defined as the central nervous system’s physiological and emotional response to a serious threat to one’s well-being. Although fear is not pleasant it is useful. It prepares us for action when danger is present, sometimes called “fight’ or “flight”.
However anxiety is different. Anxiety can be defined as the central nervous system’s physiological and emotional response to a vague sense of threat or fear. Though anxiety feels the same as fear, with anxiety the “threat” may only be perceived or imagined. At times the anxiety that people experience can be so overwhelming and disabling that they can no longer lead normal lives. When the anxiety becomes too severe, occurs too frequently, lasts too long, or is triggered too easily it is said to constitute an Anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can sometimes be difficult to describe or to measure. Fortunately psychologists have a number of tools at their disposal to attempt to determine a person’s level of anxiety. Aaron Beck, the 20th century psychologist, developed the Beck Anxiety Inventory or BAI which is a 21 question multiple choice questionnaire for measuring an individual’s anxiety level. For each question there are four possible answers (0 – 3) so the test has a score which can range from 0 to 63.
For each question the subject is asked to indicate how he/she has been feeling in the last week, expressed as common symptoms of anxiety (such as nervousness, hot and cold sweats, or trembling). Each question has the same set of four possible answer choices :
- 0 – NO not at all
- 1 – YES, but it did not bother me much.
- 2 – YES, and it was very unpleasant, but I could stand it.
- 3 – YES and I could barely stand it.
The following are the 21 categories or symptoms which the patient is asked to score himself. Numbers should reflect the patient’s experience over the past week.
Numbness or tingling
Wobbliness in legs
Unable to relax
Fear of worst happening
Dizzy or lightheaded
Terrified or afraid
Feeling of choking
Shaky / unsteady
Fear of losing control
Difficulty in breathing
Fear of dying
Faint / lightheaded
Hot or Cold Sweats
Interpretability: According to the 1993 Revisions of the BAI manual, total scores of 0 to 7 reflect “Normal levels of anxiety”; scores of 8 to 15 indicate “Mild anxiety”; scores of 16 to 25 reflect “Moderate anxiety“; and scores of 26 to 63 indicate “Severe anxiety.”
A score in the moderate range suggests that an anxiety disorder may be present. Any score between 26 and 63 strongly suggests the presence of an Anxiety disorder and the person should consult a doctor or mental health practitioner