Published by The Anxiety Disorders Foundation of Western Australia

Version 1.0 August 2001

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The combination of factors which result in an individual developing an anxiety disorder differ from person to person. However, there are some major factors that have been identified, which may be common to sufferers. These factors can be effectively divided into biological and psychological causes.

Biological Factors

A genetic factor has been linked to the development of anxiety disorders. For example, in obsessive- compulsive disorder, about 20% of first- degree relatives have also suffered from the condition. Overall, based on family studies, it has been suggested that individuals may inherit a vulnerability to developing an anxiety disorder.

Psychological Factors

Having this genetic vulnerability does not imply that those individuals will necessarily develop an anxiety disorder. A great deal depends on the lifestyle of that person, the types of life stressors they have encountered, and they’re early learning. For example, if we were taught to fear certain neutral situations as a child it can become difficult to extinguish these learned patterns of behaviour. Therefore, we may have developed certain patterns of thinking and behaving which contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder.


As you can see from this description of the fight / flight response, anxiety is an important emotion that serves to protect us from harm. For some people the fight / flight response becomes activated in situations where no real danger is present. The types of situations vary greatly from person to person. For example, simply anticipating poor performance on an examination can be enough to activate the fight / flight response. An anxiety disorder is usually diagnosed when a person cannot manage to function adequately in their daily life due to the frequency and severity of the symptoms of anxiety. It is important to keep in mind however, that some anxiety is functional, enabling us to get to work on time, meet demands, cross busy streets and remain aware of our surroundings.

“A bit of anxiety is a good thing, too much anxiety is a bad thing”


Type Description Some Common Symptons
Generalised Anxiety Disorder


Excessive and uncontrollable worry over everyday situations.
The intensity, duration and frequency of the anxiety and worry are far out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of the feared event. Individuals may think that this worry is normal.
Excessive and continual worry. Sleep disturbance.
Easily fatigued.
Difficulty in concentrating. Muscular tension.
Panic Disorder (PD) A discrete period of unpredictable intense fear brought on for no apparent reason in which at least four of the adjacent symptoms are present. Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate. Sweating. Trembling or shaking. Chest pain or discomfort. Feeling of choking. Nausea or abdominal distress. Sensations of shortness of breath. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light- headed or faint. Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself. Fear of losing control, going crazy or dying. Chills or hot flushes. Numbness or tingling sensation.
Agoraphobia Fear of having a panic attack in settings such as crowed shopping centres, trains and buses, etc. Avoidance of places where a panic attack has been previously experienced.
Social Anxiety Disorder (social phobia) A marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment or negative self- evaluation may occur. Fear of public speaking, eating or writing in public places. Fear of being embarrassed or making a fool of one self.
Specific Phobia  Marked fear of a particular object or situation. Avoidance of object or situation. (eg. spiders, snakes, lifts, heights & flying)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Recurrent, persistent, intrusive, unwanted obsessional thoughts that the individual finds difficult to control. Repetitive hand washing, counting, checking.
Fear of contamination.
Fear of harming others.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Long lasting anxiety response following exposure to a traumatic event, which involved intense fear, helplessness or horror. Nightmares. Flashbacks re- experiencing the trauma. Avoiding objects or situations that brings memories of the trauma. Irritability and anger.

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To contact ADF, write to:
ADF – WA, The Niche, Suite B,
No 11 Aberdare Road, Nedlands 6009

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