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The 6 Main Types of Anxiety - Which Do You Have?

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
The 6 Main Types of Anxiety - Which Do You Have?

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.

Anxiety Disorder Types

Anxiety is not just nervousness. There are both psychological symptoms and physical symptoms. It's not uncommon for those with anxiety to experience:

There are even less common physical symptoms like rashes, leg pain, 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:

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:

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:

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.

2. Social Anxiety (same as 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:

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 call an ambulance, worried that something is dangerously wrong with their health.

Panic disorder is characterized by two things:

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:

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:

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.

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:

For some people who 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.

4.1 Agoraphobia

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:

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.

Symptoms include:

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:

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, or else, their mother may get sick.

You may qualify for a diagnosis of OCD with obsessions, compulsions, or both. You can have obsessions without the compulsions (pure-O disorder), while in other cases, the individual will experience severe stress if they do not perform the compulsion. 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

Compulsive Behavior Patterns

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 Jack Nicholson’s character in “As Good as it Gets." 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, and disorder.

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 still feel that they can't control it.

Finding Out About Your Anxiety

Only a trained professional can give you a true diagnosis. 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.

Article Resources
  1. Beck, Aaron T., Gary Emery, and Ruth L. Greenberg. Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. Basic Books, 2005.
  2. Raskin, Marjorie, et al. Panic and generalized anxiety disorders: Developmental antecedents and precipitants. Archives of General Psychiatry 39.6 (1982): 687-689.
  3. Strine, Tara W., et al. Depression and anxiety in the United States: findings from the 2006 behavioral risk factor surveillance system. Psychiatric services 59.12 (2008): 1383-1390.
  4. Andrews, Gavin, et al. ”The treatment of anxiety disorders: Clinician guides and patient manuals.” Cambridge University Press, 2003.
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