Anxiety disorders differ from normal anxiety in the severity and intensity of the anxiety, it is long-lasting, it interferes with one’s ability to function and occurs when a person is not in a state of danger. Anxiety disorders include social anxiety, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and specific phobias. Anxiety disorders have been minimally studied in athletes and it’s important to recognize that athletes have normal state-anxiety before competition (appropriately nervous) but it should not permeate their entire life (Reardon & Factor, 2010).

  • Social anxiety is anxiety provoked by exposure to certain types of social or performance situations often leading to avoidance behaviour, it is the fear of being judged or criticized by others
  • General anxiety is an overwhelming anxiety and worry about a number of things (i.e.: health, finances, children) continuing for at least 6 months
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the display of reoccurring thoughts, impulses or images (obsessive) that are unwanted and intrude consciousness as well as ritualistic behaviours or mental acts such as silent counting (compulsive) that serve to relieve anxiety (characterized by at least 1hr per day of the obsessive-compulsive behaviour and which significantly interferes with daily functioning)
  • Panic disorder is diagnosed when an individual experiences more than one spell or attack when they suddenly feel anxious, uneasy or frightened with a persistent fear of having another attack. These spells reach a peak within about 10-15 minutes and this intense fear is inappropriate for the circumstances in which it is occurring
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder occur after experiencing or witnessing a distressing or catastrophic event. Symptoms may include: re-experiencing the trauma (through dreams, flashbacks and intrusive memories), feelings of uneasiness in situation which bring back memories of the event, avoidance behaviour, emotional numbing, reduced interest in others or outside world, persistent increased arousal – jumpiness, easily startled, outburst of rage, irritability
  • Phobias occur when a person avoids or restricts activities, places or situations because of the excessive or irrational fear of an object or situation; this fear is persistent and unreasonable and causes impairment and high stress; it is also one of the most understood and one of the most treatable anxiety disorders

Possible Signs of Anxiety Disorder

Physical Symptoms:

  • Fast or pounding heart, chest pain, flushed
  • Headaches, dizziness, tingling or numbing of the skin, sweating
  • Stomach pains, indigestion, diarrhea Tremors or muscle tension or ache
  • Inability to relax
  • Hyperventilation, shortness of breath, chest pains
  • Dry mouth, nausea, vomiting
  • Easily fatigued

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Fear, trepidation, sense of impending doom or imminent danger
  • Excessive worry, irritability, easily distracted
  • Restlessness, speed or slowing thoughts
  • Fear of dying or ‘going crazy’
  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing
  • Mind going blank
  • Sleep disturbances, vivid dreams
  • Environment feels unreal and unfamiliar
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Types of Mental Health Problems

Disorder Disclaimer

The following are mental health problems (as defined by Reardon and Factor, 2010; Gardner and Moore, 2006; Mental Health Commission of Canada – Mental Health First Aid Canada, 2011).

Supporting ‘red flag’ examples are also provided to initiate the awareness and early detection of mental health problems. Please note this is not an exhaustive list, but a breakdown of some common mental health problems and the corresponding physical and psychological symptoms to look out for.