Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Some people have general anxiety that is manageable but never seems to go away. Others suffer from profound anxiety attacks. Others experience anxiety in social situations or need order and cleanliness to relax.
Psychologists have created categories for each of the different types of anxiety, and only by knowing what type of anxiety you're experiencing can you hope to find relief.
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Anxiety Disorder Types
Anxiety is not a simple condition. It manifests itself in hundreds of different ways. Not long ago I created my 7 minute anxiety quiz specifically for those that believe they're suffering from anxiety. The quiz is designed to look at your symptoms and tell you if you're suffering from anxiety and what type it will be.
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Anxiety is not just nervousness. There are both psychological symptoms and physical symptoms. It's not uncommon for those with anxiety to experience:
- Rapid heartbeat (heart palpitations)
- Excessive trembling and sweating
- Nausea and dizziness
- Chest pain and headaches
- Weakness in the limbs and muscle tension
There are even less common physical symptoms like rashes, anxiety after food, and a feeling of choking.
Of course, anxiety is known as a mental health disorder for a reason. Those with anxiety often find themselves with compulsive worrying, irrational fears, trouble branching out socially and more. Anxiety is both a physical and mental issue that affects millions of people all over the world.
It's crucial that you understand what anxiety you're suffering from and how it affects you. Psychologists convene regularly to discuss how to categorize anxiety disorders, and according to recent scientific interpretations, there are 7 categories of anxiety disorders. Here's the list of different anxiety disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Phobia
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Pay close attention to the descriptions of each type of anxiety and see if the symptoms seem like the ones you're suffering from. It is possible to feel as though you're suffering from more than one type of anxiety.
Remember, however, that you shouldn't diagnose yourself. Only a mental health professional is qualified to diagnose you with a mental health disorder.
When Anxiety Disrupts Your Life It's a Problem
One of the most common questions people with anxiety ask themselves is "what is the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder?" It's true that not all problem anxiety qualifies as an anxiety disorder.
However, the answer isn't always that simple. The reality is that if you feel as though your anxiety is causing a problem in your life, it may be beneficial to seek help. Some anxiety in life is normal, but anxiety that disrupts your quality of life is still a problem.
No matter what type of anxiety you're dealing with, anxiety can be cured by the following strategies:
- Find out your specific type of anxiety.
- Accept that your anxiety is a problem.
- Understand your anxiety causes and triggers.
- Break them down into smaller pieces that you can manage.
- Change your lifestyle to be more anxiety free.
Below, we'll examine the seven causes of anxiety.
1: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is the most common and widespread type of anxiety. GAD affects tens of millions of people throughout the world.
GAD is best described as an ongoing state of mental and/or physical tension and nervousness, either without a specific cause or without the ability to take a break from the anxiety.
In other words, if you feel yourself constantly on edge, worried, anxious, or stressed (either physically or mentally) and it's disrupting your life, you may have generalized anxiety disorder. Remember, some anxiety is a natural part of life, and some degree of anxiety is normal to feel occasionally. But when that anxiety appears to occur for no reason or for reasons that shouldn't be causing that degree of anxiousness, you may have generalized anxiety disorder.
The following are the most common problems associated with GAD:
- Constant restlessness, irritation, edginess, or a feeling of being without control.
- Fatigue, lethargy, or generally low energy levels (feeling drained).
- Tense muscles, especially on the back, neck, and shoulders.
- Trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks or activities.
- Obsessing over negative and anxiety causing thoughts – "Disaster Thinking."
The key is _persistent mental or physical anxiety_. If it doesn't appear to go away, it may be GAD.
Did you know you can suffer from more than one anxiety disorder? Generalized anxiety disorder appears to be very common in those with other anxiety disorders, especially panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
To really know what type of anxiety you're suffering from, take my 7 minute anxiety test now.
2: Social Anxiety (aka Social Phobia)
Many people suffer from what's known as "social phobia," an irrational fear of social situations. Some degree of social phobia is normal. Small degrees of shyness in public places, or discomfort while public speaking, are natural in most people and do not imply an anxiety problem.
But when that fear disrupts your life, _you may be suffering from social phobia_. Social phobia is when the shyness is intense, and the idea of socializing or speaking with the public, strangers, authority figures, or possibly even your friends causes you noticeable anxiety and fear.
People with social phobia view public situations as being potentially painful and distressing, living with a constant fear of being judged, observed, remarked upon, or avoided. Those with social phobia also often have an irrational fear of doing something stupid or embarrassing.
What makes this more than just shyness is when those fears cause you to avoid healthy socializing situations altogether. Those with social phobia often live with two or more of the following issues:
- Feeling hopeless or fearful of unfamiliar people or in unfamiliar situations.
- Obsession over being watched, observed, or judged by strangers.
- Experiencing overwhelming anxiety in any social situation with difficulty coping.
- Severe fear of public speaking – beyond what one would consider "normal"
- Anxiousness about the idea of social situations, even when not in one.
- Intense issues meeting new people or voicing up when you need to speak.
Many people with social phobia display avoidance behaviors. They avoid any social situations as best they can to avoid further fear.
3: Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is a debilitating anxiety disorder that is very different from GAD. Panic disorder is not about "panicking." It's not about getting very worried because you might lose your job or a lion is about to attack you in the jungle. That type of panic is normal.
Panic disorder is when you experience severe feelings of doom that cause both mental and physical symptoms that can be so intense that some people become hospitalized, worried that something is dangerously wrong with their health.
Panic disorder is characterized by two things:
- Panic attacks.
- Fear of getting panic attacks.
Panic attacks are intense physical and mental sensations that can be triggered by stress, anxiety, or by nothing at all. They often involve mental distress, but are most well-known for their physical symptoms, including:
- Rapid heartbeat (heart palpitations or irregular/fast paced heart rhythms).
- Excessive sweating or hot/cold flashes.
- Tingling sensations, numbness, or weakness in the body.
- Depersonalization (feeling like you're outside yourself).
- Trouble breathing or feeling as though you've had a deep breath.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Chest pain or stomach pain.
- Digestive problems and/or discomfort.
Panic attacks may have some or all of the above physical symptoms, and may also involve unusual symptoms as well, like headaches, ear pressure, and more. All of these symptoms feel very real, which is why those that experience panic attacks often seek medical attention for their health.
Panic attacks are also known for their mental "symptoms" which peak about 10 minutes into a panic attack. These include:
- Feeling of doom, or the feeling as though you're about to die.
- Severe anxiety, especially health anxiety.
- Feeling of helplessness, or feeling like you're no longer yourself.
Contrary to popular belief, it's possible for the physical symptoms of panic attacks to come both before or after anxiety, meaning that you can experience physical symptoms first before experiencing the fear of death. That is why many people feel as though something is very wrong with their health.
Panic attacks can be triggered by an over-sensitivity to body sensations, by stress, or by nothing at all. Panic disorder can be very hard to control without help. Seeking assistance right away for your panic attacks is an important tool for stopping them so that you can learn the techniques necessary to cure this panic.
You can also have panic disorder without experiencing many panic attacks. If you live in constant fear of a panic attack, you may also qualify for a panic disorder diagnosis. In those cases, your anxiety may resemble generalized anxiety disorder, but the fear, in this case, is known.
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4: Specific Phobias
Phobias are intense feelings of fear because of objects, scenarios, animals, etc. Phobias generally bring about disaster thinking (believing that the worst will happen) or avoidance behaviors (doing whatever it takes to avoid the phobia).
An example of a common phobia is arachnophobia or fear of spiders. Very few spiders are likely to bite, and even fewer are dangerous, and yet many people experience a feeling of severe dread at even the idea of a spider. Other examples of common phobias include snakes, airplanes, thunderstorms, and blood.
Phobias do count as an anxiety disorder, although some people can go their entire life with a phobia and not require treatment. For example, if you have a fear of chickens, but live nowhere near a farm, then while you do have a very real phobia it may not be disruptive.
But if at any point your life starts to change as a result of your phobia, then you have a real issue. Phobias commonly cause:
- Excessive, constant fear of a specific situation or event.
- Instant feeling of terror when confronted with the subject of your phobia.
- Inability to control your fears, even though you know they're irrational.
- Going to great lengths to avoid the situation or object that causes you fear.
- Experiencing restrictions to your normal routine as a result of the fear.
For some people that have severe phobias, the mere idea of the object they fear (even if it is not present) causes stress or anxiety or otherwise affects their life.
Many people have small phobias they can manage, but if the phobia ever starts to genuinely affect your ability to live a quality life, you may need to find a treatment solution.
Agoraphobia is a type of phobia, but it deserves its own separate section.
Agoraphobia is the fear of going out in public, either the fear of open spaces or the fear of being in unfamiliar places. Many people with agoraphobia either never leave their home, or do anything they can to avoid traveling anywhere other than their home and office. Some people can go to the grocery store or other familiar places but otherwise experience intense, nearly debilitating fear anywhere else.
Many people (although not all) that have agoraphobia _also have panic disorder_. That's because, for many, agoraphobia is often caused by panic attacks. People experience panic attacks in public places, so they start to avoid more and more places to avoid panic attacks until they are afraid to go outside.
Some people experience agoraphobia after traumatic events as well.
Agoraphobia is more common in adults. Many also fear losing control (both psychologically and physically), causing them to avoid social situations. Not everyone living with agoraphobia spends all their time in their home. In fact, some of the more common symptoms include:
- Obsessive fear of socializing with groups of people, regardless of whether or not you know them.
- Severe stress or anxiety whenever you're in an environment other than your home, or an environment where you're not in control.
- Feelings of tension and stress even during regular activities, such as going to the store, talking with strangers, or even just stepping outdoors.
- Preoccupation with how to protect yourself or find safety if some type of trouble occurs, even with little reason to believe trouble will occur.
- Finding that your own fears are keeping you prisoner and preventing you from going out and living life because of that fear.
Many people experience moments where they feel vulnerable outdoors and prefer to stay safe in their homes. But when the fear seems to persist for a long period of time or is holding you back from living an enjoyable life, you may have agoraphobia.
5: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
As a human being, there are always risks that put your life in danger. Most people are lucky enough to avoid these dangers and live a nice and safe life. But in some cases, you may experience a life trauma – either physically or emotionally – and this can cause an anxiety problem known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
As the name implies, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that comes after the traumatic event has occurred. Those living with PTSD often must get outside help, because PTSD can affect people for years after the event occurs – possibly even for the rest of their life.
PTSD affects people both psychologically and physically. In most cases, the person with PTSD is the one that experienced the traumatic event, but it's possible to get PTSD by simply witnessing an event or injury, or even simply discovering that someone close to you dealt with a traumatic event.
- Reliving the Trauma The most well-known symptom of PTSD is reliving the trauma. Those with PTSD often relive the trauma not only emotionally – in some cases, they may relive the trauma mentally and physically, as though transported back to the event.
- Responding to Triggers Those with PTSD may (in some cases) have triggers that cause intense stress or fear. These triggers are often related to the event, such as loud noises when the event involved loud noises or intense fear when someone is behind you if you were attacked from behind. It also may be triggered by thoughts of the event.
- Anxiety Over Recurrence Like with panic attacks, you may also have PTSD if you have developed severe anxiety over the event occurring again. If you experience regular, daily anxiety over the idea of a repeat of the event, it may also be PTSD.
- Emotional Trouble Many of those with PTSD also experience issues with their emotional thinking and future. Some feel a disinterest or detachment from love. Others become emotionally numb. Others become convinced they're destined to die. Any and all of these emotional struggles may be common in those with PTSD.
You may also experience severe "what if" scenarios everywhere you go, including disaster thinking or feeling helpless/hopeless in public situations. Many of those with PTSD also experience avoidance behaviors of events, things, and even people that may remind them of the event – even if there is no link between these issues and the trauma.
Those with post-traumatic stress disorder may be at a greater baseline of stress on most days. They may be short-tempered or easy to anger. They may be startled/frightened easily or be unable to sleep. PTSD can be a difficult problem to live with.
6: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, can be a very destructive anxiety disorder. Those with OCD often exhibit behaviors and fears that are not only confusing to those around you – they may be confusing to the person with OCD as well.
Compulsions and obsessions are similar, but exhibit themselves in different ways:
- Obsessions: Obsessions are thought based. They're a preoccupation with a specific thought, usually a negative or fearful thought, that a person simply cannot shake no matter how hard they try.
- Compulsions: Compulsions are behavior based. They're a "need" to perform an action or activity, often in a very specific way, and as hard as the person tries, they can't stop themselves from performing the behavior.
An obsession would be worrying that your mother might get very sick, while a compulsion would be feeling anxious if you do not touch a doorknob before you leave the house. In many cases, the feelings are linked – those with OCD may feel as though they need to touch a doorknob. Otherwise, their mother may get sick.
You may qualify for a diagnosis of OCD with obsessions, compulsions, or both. You can have compulsions without obsessions, though in most cases the individual will experience severe stress if they do not respond to the compulsion. You can also have obsessions without compulsions (such as the fear of germs), but in many cases, these fears will lead to a compulsion (like having to wash your hands).
Many people with OCD go through a variety of thought processes that lead to their obsessions and compulsions. The following are examples of obsessive thought patterns and compulsive thought patterns:
Obsessive Thought Patterns
- You find yourself "obsessed" with things that you appear to be the only one worrying about.
- You try to shake away those thoughts when they occur, usually by performing an action.
- You find that the action doesn't work, and ultimately the obsession continues.
- You find yourself upset over being unable to shake the thoughts.
- You find that the worse you feel, the more you seem to obsess over those thoughts.
Compulsive Behavior Patterns
- You experience anxiety, often over an obsession (although not necessarily).
- You perform an action that appears to reduce that anxiety slightly.
- You turn to this action to relieve your anxiety until it becomes a ritual.
- You find that you absolutely have to perform this behavior, or your anxiety becomes overwhelming.
- You repeat the action and reinforce the behavior.
One of the most well-known obsessions is a "fear of contamination." This was the type of obsession that was common on TV shows like "Monk." The person fears germs (obsessions), so they avoid touching things and wash their hands frequently (compulsion). But there are many other types of obsessions, including those about sinning, sexual situations, acts of violence, pedophilia, order, and loss.
Note that "obsessions" are not "desires." They are persistent thoughts that cause distress. A person that has a violence obsession is unlikely a violent person and doesn't desire violence. That is one of the reasons that it causes distress. Yet, because they cannot stop the thoughts, they may fear that they are secretly a violent person. They may begin to doubt themselves.
Compulsions and obsessions may appear very unusual to outsiders, and it's possible for someone with OCD to know that their compulsions are irrational, but those with OCD feel still can't control it.
Finding Out About Your Anxiety
Only a licensed psychologist can diagnose a true anxiety disorder. But the above explanations should give you a better understanding of the types of anxiety disorders that affect millions of people all over the world.
No matter what type of anxiety you feel you're suffering from, the good news is that there are genuinely effective ways to help. Many people have cured their anxiety altogether, and others find ways to make it easily manageable.
All you need to do is understand your anxiety better, choose effective treatment techniques, and make sure that you're ready to commit to what it takes to rid yourself of your anxiety forever. These techniques are out there and available to treat your anxiety and keep it from coming back.
I strongly recommend you take my free anxiety test. The test will take you 7 minutes or less, and you'll get a much better understanding of your anxiety and how it can be treated.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Aug 07, 2018.