Recognizing and Addressing the Seven Types of Anxiety Disorders

Natalie Buchwald, LMHCAnxiety

Anxiety disorders impact millions. The National Institute of Health estimates that over 30% of adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder at one point or another throughout their lifetime.

But not all anxiety disorders look the same. There are seven types of anxiety disorders to know about:

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) 
  2. Panic disorder
  3. Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  4. Agoraphobia
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  6. Separation anxiety disorder
  7. Specific phobias. 

Remember that everyone experiences some level of anxiety here and there. It’s a natural part of life. But when it’s ongoing and gets in the way of living, it could be a disorder that affects your quality of life.

This article explores each of these 7 types of anxiety disorders in detail.

1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is the most common type of anxiety disorder characterized by continuous anxiety or feelings of dread. People with GAD experience a level of ongoing anxiety that gets in the way of their ability to live their daily lives the way they want to. For example, someone with GAD may avoid leaving the house, have trouble sleeping regularly, or fail to have enough focus during the day to accomplish tasks.

There is no standard duration for how long people typically experience GAD. It can vary, spanning from a few months to many years. 

Let’s look at the most common generalized anxiety symptoms:

  • An inability to focus
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling anxious for no apparent reason
  • Worrying out of control
  • Feeling tired easily
  • Difficulty sleeping at night
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Heart palpitation
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Sweating

Symptoms can be physical or emotional, as with any anxiety disorder. Some people with GAD have trouble pinpointing a cause, while others may have gone through a traumatic experience or have regular and serious stress that they need to learn how to cope with or handle effectively. 

Additionally, some people with GAD may start to experience panic and eventually panic attacks. A mental healthcare provider can help you understand what your symptoms mean and whether they could point to GAD. Many people with GAD find relief through lifestyle changes, therapy, and daily anti-anxiety medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

2. Panic disorder

Many people with anxiety also have panic attacks. Panic disorder is associated with sudden and extreme feelings of anxiety. When these individuals have frequent and intense panic attacks, it could be panic disorder. Panic disorder isn’t caused by one event or characteristic, and panic attacks may look different for everyone.

These are the common symptoms:

  • Suddenly becoming fearful and anxious
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Regular or frequent panic attacks
  • Feeling like you’re losing control
  • Feeling a strong sense of doom
  • Avoiding past locations of panic attacks
  • Constantly worried about your next panic attack

Physical symptoms during these attacks are commonly sweating, dizziness, a pounding heart, or trouble breathing. Some people report that their hands start to tingle, and chest pain could arise. Because of these worrisome symptoms, many people feel like they need to go to an emergency department for immediate help.

There are often no known causes of panic disorder. However, triggers may come from having an underlying fear of something bad happening, such as a heart attack, and thinking that a panic attack is actually a heart attack. This can create a cycle of panic that is always under the surface, waiting to reappear.

Some people with panic disorder may have other types of anxiety disorders or phobias that build up and lead to frequent panic attacks. For example, if someone has a fear of heights, they may begin to panic when they’re in a high place and feel trapped.

Working with a mental health counselor will help you understand your symptoms, how to manage them, and even pinpoint their root cause. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll alleviate your panic attacks.

Many people with panic attacks are prescribed medication, such as daily SSRIs or as-needed drugs like benzodiazepines (Xanax). However, talk therapy has proven to be equally, if not more, effective in treating panic disorder. Fortunately, talk therapy comes without the side effects that often accompany anxiolytic medication.

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public transportation anxiety

3. Social anxiety disorder 

It’s very common for people to have a little social anxiety, especially when meeting new people or engaging in new situations. Public speaking is generally at the very top of most people’s list of worst fears. But social anxiety disorder takes things even further. 

This disorder manifests when someone persistently fears getting into social situations, actively avoids these situations, and constantly worries about others judging them. Their fears may lead them to stay home all the time – even if, in theory, they want to be social.

Signs of social anxiety disorder may include:

  • Having an intense fear of social interactions
  • An extreme fear of speaking to other people or in public
  • Excessively thinking and worrying about social situations
  • Avoiding any kind of social gathering
  • Blushing or sweating in social situations
  • A pounding heart

Social anxiety may come into play when these fears are getting in the way of meeting your goals or living your life the way you would like to. You may want to meet people and have a fulfilling life of meaningful connection, but your anxiety rarely allows you to be yourself around others.

Keep in mind that, generally speaking, being shy or introverted does not necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. 

It can be difficult to differentiate shyness from social anxiety.  Shyness is a personality trait characterized by feelings of discomfort or awkwardness in social situations. Shyness is often accompanied by a desire to avoid the spotlight. But this discomfort might not be related to a worry about being judged, criticized, or embarrassed, which characterizes social anxiety.

Working on social anxiety in therapy offers a safe space to discuss your fears surrounding social situations and learn effective ways to address them. If you feel like your social anxiety is out of control, talk to a therapist who can help you manage these symptoms.

social anxiety symbolism

4. Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a unique social anxiety disorder where you feel an overwhelming fear of places and situations that might cause you to panic, be embarrassed, get trapped, or feel helpless. While the term “agoraphobia” technically means a fear of open spaces, it is usually characterized by these symptoms:

  • Feeling trapped when in meetings or taking public transportation
  • Feeling an overwhelming sense of dread in public
  • Worrying about not being able to escape from a situation
  • Avoiding situations and places where you have previously had anxiety or panic

Agoraphobia is a common fear that often develops as anxiety and panic attack symptoms progress and increase in frequency. Furthermore, people with this type of fear may get so worried and fearful that they start to panic, leading to an attack.

A common example is riding public transportation, such as a bus, train, or boat. In these situations, someone with agoraphobia may feel intense fear and dread if they can’t immediately escape. They may feel trapped, which causes them to worry about their safety or that they’ll have some kind of health event. 

Other people may have these feelings in a meeting, at large events, or even sitting in a barber’s chair. Agoraphobia is often irrational, but it can limit what someone feels comfortable doing on a daily basis. This form of anxiety is often treated with medication or therapies that are also used to treat panic attacks, including SSRIs, benzos, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is estimated to impact a little over 1% of U.S. adults each year, and females have more cases than men. While you may often hear that someone has OCD if they are excessively organized or uptight, those people may not have an actual disorder.

Here are the symptoms of OCD:

  • An irrational fear of germs
  • A fear of losing control
  • Being obsessed with cleanliness and organization
  • Counting compulsively
  • Repeating words or phrases continuously
  • Vocal or motor tics

These behaviors get in the way of daily life for people with OCD. They often can’t control these compulsions, or they may fear that something bad will happen if they don’t perform them. 

OCD is thus significantly different from someone just being overly clean or organized. Often, the key difference is that it interferes with people reaching their goals or being who they want to be. Medications such as antidepressants and SSRIs are generally prescribed but often result in side effects and possible efficiency over time. One of the most effective psychotherapies for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP).

Therapy is the primary treatment for OCD, with strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of talk therapy. Although it requires time and commitment, the results are highly beneficial for those with OCD.

6. Separation anxiety disorder

When you hear about separation anxiety, you probably picture a dog or a child feeling sad when they’re left alone or with new people. However, anyone can have separation anxiety disorder, including adults. 

Separation anxiety in a relationship is the intense feeling of fear, anxiousness, or panic upon separating from your partner and when being away from them.

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Fear of being away from loved ones
  • Worrying that something bad is going to happen to someone who is away from you
  • Avoiding being separated from people or alone
  • Having anxiety or fear when someone is about to leave

For example, someone with separation anxiety may overly worry that their loved one is going to get into a car accident when they’re gone. They may only feel calm when the person is with them at home.

People with anxious attachment styles are more prone to separation anxiety. They act out in anxious ways because they fear that the person they rely on for safety or love will leave them. This can manifest itself in the form of separation anxiety.

People with this disorder may experience panic attacks in these situations. Their fear may get in the way of their lives. Past experiences, such as a traumatic event, or environmental factors from childhood, could cause separation anxiety. 

Therapy can provide a safe space to explore the root causes of separation anxiety and develop coping strategies to manage symptoms.

7. Specific phobias

People who have specific phobias experience intense anxiety when exposed to a feared specific object or situation. There are many types of phobias. Those called “complex phobias” include agoraphobia, already discussed above, as well as social phobia. 

However, there are also specific phobias, wherein a person fears a specific situation or thing. These are discussed frequently when someone may have a fear of heights or snakes, which are common complaints. There are instances where these phobias go beyond the normal amount of irritation, discomfort, or fear.

Common specific phobias include:

  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights
  • Aerophobia: Fear of airplanes
  • Aquaphobia: Fear of water
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces
  • Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
  • Entomophobia: Fear of insects
  • Monophobia: Fear of being alone
  • Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes

Symptoms of specific phobias may include an overwhelming and excessive fear that’s not based on reason, sudden symptoms of anxiety, avoiding certain situations or things, and intense fear that lasts more than six months. 

People with specific phobias may experience a rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, and disorientation. They may be afraid of losing control or have serious feelings of dread or death. 

For treatment, mental health professionals may try exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, mindfulness based stress reduction and hypnotherapy, among others. 

Note: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is closely related to anxiety disorders. PTSD can develop after experiencing a traumatic event and often includes symptoms such as severe anxiety, flashbacks, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. While PTSD is distinct, it shares many overlapping symptoms with anxiety disorders and often coexists with them.

Finding help for anxiety through online therapy

Experiencing anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. If your symptoms align with those described, consider talking to a mental health therapist. Online therapy offers a convenient way to start your mental health journey from home.

The team at Manhattan Mental Health Counseling is here to help you understand your anxiety and identify root causes and solutions. Reach out to us today to improve your quality of life.

Looking For Therapy? Start Healing Today. Call Now To Get Started!