We often use the term “anxiety” as a general, umbrella term that can describe a number of different types of anxiety disorders. While there are also general treatments that might work to reduce overall levels of anxiety, treatment is much more effective when targeted toward a specific type of anxiety. The following are the most common types of anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterized by chronic and exaggerated worry. Many people with GAD spend hours of each day worrying about possible negative outcomes of everyday situations as well as catastrophic events. Some will develop stress headaches, experience stomach upset and have a difficult time concentrating on everyday tasks. It is an ongoing state of anxiety and nervousness, often without a specific cause.
Phobias are irrational fears of places or things. Some common phobias include fears of dogs, flying or public speaking. Many people with specific phobias will go to great lengths to avoid the feared object or place, for example, driving on a cross country trip rather than getting on a plane. While this works for some, for others, avoiding places or objects can severely interfere with daily life, for example, a fear of elevators might limit where you can work.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Once thought of as “intense shyness,” those with SAD have irrational worries about social interactions. They often worry about saying something “stupid” or being judged by others. It can lead to the inability to participate in conversations and social isolation. Some people can experience panic symptoms when faced with a social situation. Social phobia can be specific - such as a fear of eating in public - or general in which you avoid most social situations.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterized by intrusive, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors which are meant to help relieve the intrusive thoughts. Common examples of OCD behaviors include repeatedly checking to make sure the stove is turned off to prevent the thought that the house is going to burn down or continuously washing your hands, even to the point of making your hands raw, to prevent thoughts of becoming ill from germs. Some compulsions aren’t logically attached to the obsessive thought, for example, you might feel you need to go through a certain ritual, such as touching a doorknob six times before leaving the house to stay safe while you are outside. Despite knowing your obsessive thoughts are irrational, you feel powerless to stop or control them.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD occurs as the result of a trauma - either a sudden and catastrophic trauma such as a natural disaster or witnessing an accident, or a long-term trauma, such as child abuse or combat. Symptoms of PTSD including reliving the event, experiencing severe anxiety worrying about if the event will occur again, detachment (emotional numbness) or feeling a disinterest in people around you. Symptoms of PTSD can be triggered by sounds, smells or anything that might remind you of the incident.
Panic disorder is characterized by a sudden feeling of terror. It can come without warning and many times people who experience panic disorder will try to avoid places or situations where they previously experienced a panic attack. Most people experience physical symptoms, such as chest pain or racing heart, sweating, dizziness, numbness, shortness of breath and nausea. It is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack. Panic attacks are often accompanied by feelings of doom, feeling as if you are going to die and a helplessness that you can’t stop the panic from escalating.
For information on treating anxiety disorders:
How Antidepressants are Used to Treat Anxiety
Treating Anxiety through Exercise
Who is Responsible for Treating Anxiety: You or Your Doctor?
Treating Anxiety and Depression
Benefits and Limitations of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Treating Anxiety