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Anxiety Disorders

Suddenly your heart is racing, palms are sweaty, stomach’s churning. Your muscles are tense and your senses alert. Your mind is flooded with worries and fears that something bad will happen. This is anxiety; and we have all had it. When faced with a threatening event such as a physical attack or a natural disaster, most people feel anxiety or fear. Our bodies give us a surge of adrenaline and our instincts take over. This gives us the strength we need to get out of the situation and survive. Anxiety is our body’s response to stress and danger, but in today’s world most of the ‘dangers’ we face day to day are not ones we can fight with our fists or run away from easily. These modern ‘dangers’ are many and can be anything from a heavy work load at your job to family conflicts, aggressive drivers or money troubles. Some anxiety from time to time is normal and healthy; it can help motivate us and help get us out of tough situations. But when anxiety lasts for weeks or months, develops into a constant sense of dread or begins to affect your everyday life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

On this page:

What is it?

Anxiety disorders describe a group of related mental illnesses. A very common myth is that anxiety disorders are the same thing as problems with stress. Anxiety and stress problems can have a lot in common. The difference is that in an anxiety disorder, the symptoms are extreme and don’t go away once the stress is over. There are several different types of anxiety disorders:


Who does it affect?

Anxiety is the most common type of mental disorder affecting 12% of BC’s population, or one in eight people, in any given year. There are a number of things about who you are that can put you at greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder:


Could I have an anxiety disorder?

If this last item plus one or more of the others sounds like you, talk to your doctor about it. You may also want to try our online self-tests* which can be printed out and taken to your doctor.

*available in English, French and Traditional Chinese

Am I having a panic attack?

If the first symptom plus several or more of the others come on suddenly, you may be experiencing a panic attack. Panic attacks usually peak within a few seconds or a few minutes. Talk to your doctor about your attacks and work together to figure out ways to prevent and treat them.It’s important to know that having a panic attack doesn’t mean you have panic disorder. A third of adults will experience a panic attack in their lifetime and most of them will not develop panic disorder. Panic attacks can also be part of other anxiety disorders.


What can I do about it?

Anxiety disorders are among the most treatable mental illnesses. There are a few different things you can do that have been shown by research to help the most:


Where do I go from here?

If you think you have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to see a doctor first to rule out other explanations for your symptoms. In addition to talking to your family doctor, check out the resources below for more information on anxiety disorders.

Other helpful resources available in English only are:

Visit or call 604-525-7566 for information and community resources.

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit See our section on anxiety disorders including our Anxiety Disorders Toolkit. The Toolkit is full of information, tips and self-tests to help you understand your anxiety disorder.

Resources available in many languages:
*For the service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

HealthLink BC
Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2013

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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