A psychiatric condition occurs when a cluster of emotions interfere with daily life. For example, let’s look at the symptoms of Panic Disorder. These include panic attacks followed by worry about having more panic attacks for at least one month. What is a panic attack? A period of being very nervous or uncomfortable while having some of these sensations: racing heart, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, choking sensation, chest pain, upset stomach, dizziness, feelings of unreality, fear of losing control, hot or cold flushes, numbness or tingling, fear of dying. Now, if you noticed a snarling bear racing toward you as you were camping in the woods, some of these feelings would be very helpful. You would want your brain to tell you, “Danger- you could be killed by a bear! Get up and run away to safety!” You would want to feel energized as your heart quickly pumped blood through your body. If you remained seated calmly at the campfire toasting your marshmallow, the consequences could be very serious.

However, if you were sitting in a room listening to a lecture, it would not be helpful to experience these sensations. You might spend the lecture fighting the urge to get up and run out of the room. Even if the sensations stopped, you might continue to worry that you would have another panic attack. Your grades might go down because you were paying attention to the panic attacks instead of what was being taught. You might feel the safest at home in your bedroom, and be reluctant to go to school. The panic attacks would be interfering with your ability to function in school, and school is a big part of a young person’s life. If this happened, you would have developed a psychiatric condition called panic disorder. Feelings become psychiatric conditions when they interfere with your functioning in a major area, such as your ability to learn, have fun, work, or interact with other people.