6 Types of Anxiety Disorders: which type do you have?

Today you’ll discover the 6 major types of anxiety.

For each type you’ll learn:

  • What it is
  • How living with it looks like
  • The symptoms 
  • A brief summary of the treatment.

If you want to know which one describes your situation best, this guide is for you!

Let’s dive right in.

Type #1: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Everyone feels anxious and worried now and then. Especially when faced with big life events (like marriage, divorce, moving out) or stressful situations (like an exam, speaking in public or a job interview).

But people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) feel a continuous low-level anxiety during the day, which is caused by worrying about almost everything in life. These worries are so constant that they interfere with their daily life. 

They are almost always out of proportion to the situation that triggered it and resolve about certain themes that are important to the worrier. Think of worrying about their health, their finances, their relationships and their work. GAD can be caused by stressful life events, family history or physiological factors (like being sensitive to uncertainty or having perfectionistic tendencies).

There is one main trigger for people who struggle with GAD: uncertainty. People with GAD have a high intolerance for uncertainty. They find it hard to live with uncertainty, and in the hope to eliminate uncertainty, they start to worry in the hope to make things more certain. But that is not an effective strategy, and in this article, I explain why. 

Symptoms
The most common symptom of GAD is persistent worrying that interferes with your daily life. These worries are often always out of proportion to the trigger and are caused by situations with the slightest amount of uncertainty in them.

According to Beachsideteen, the symptoms of GAD include:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety out of proportion to events
  • Overthinking plans
  • Difficulty managing uncertainty
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless and feeling on edge
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making wrong decisions
  • Not being able to let go of worries
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sweating

Treatment 
The treatment of GAD consists of learning to tolerate uncertainty and learning how to handle worries effectively. Worry creates a lot of stress on the body, and when you learn how to handle your worries effectively, the low-level anxiety will start to decrease over time. This article explains more about overcoming GAD.

Type #2: Social Anxiety

Feeling some nervousness or anxiety in certain situations where we might get attention from others is completely normal. Whether you go to a party from a new friend or give a speech to a group of people; feeling nervous prior to and during such events is completely normal. 

But when you struggle with social anxiety, these events can lead to extreme anxiety. When people with social anxiety get in social situations, they often replay their worst fears inside their head. Think of being judged, harshly criticized, being laughed at or even being humiliated.

Social anxiety can occur in the lead-up or during situations with social interaction. 

Symptoms
According to BeyondBlue.org, the most common symptoms of social anxiety are:

  • Nervousness and feeling on edge (prior to and during social interaction)
  • Excessive worry
  • Trembling
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Blushing or stammering when trying to speak
  • Nausea or diarrhea

The physical symptoms can cause further anxiety, because people with social anxiety fear that others will notice their symptoms, like sweating. And when others notice, they are afraid that their worst fears may come true. Think of being humiliated, criticized or laughed at. 

People with social anxiety often try to avoid the social situations they fear. But if that’s not possible, they try to escape as quickly as they can, or rely on certain “safety behaviours”. These could be certain people, certain items or other rituals (like being close to the exit). These safety behaviours give them false comfort and stand in the way of healing. 

Treatment
Social anxiety is best treated by practising exposure therapy. This means gradually exposing yourself to social situations that cause anxiety. The goal of exposure therapy is to train and show your mind that social situations are safe. Doing this repeatedly and willfully will result in a decrease in anxiety over time.

Type #3: Phobias

Many people feel anxious when faced with a spider, a snake or heights for example. Feeling fear is a completely normal response to things that can pose a threat to our safety. 

But people with a specific phobia are far more sensitive to the phobic stimulus than others. Even seeing it on TV, or having the thought of the phobia can activate the threat response and cause anxiety or panic. Their feelings of fear are completely out of proportion to the actual threat.

People who struggle from certain phobias often are aware that their reaction is exaggerated, but feel like they cannot control their anxiety. Sometimes this can lead to panic attacks, where a person experiences an overwhelming fear, a racing heart or feeling dizzy. This is often caused by misinterpreting their anxious sensations and fearing their anxiety.

Symptoms
You may have a phobia if you have an unreasonable fear of specific objects, situations or animals and avoid these things, because it results in experiencing too much stress. Avoiding these triggers is a major symptom of phobia. 

Treatment
The single best treatment for phobia is exposure therapy. This means gradually exposing yourself to your phobia in order to show your mind you are safe. In this article I explain how to do this correctly. 

Type #4: Panic Disorder 

Almost every person has experienced a panic attack at least once in their life. But when this happens more frequently and unexpected, you might have a panic disorder. 

This is often characterized by panic attacks that seem to come out of the blue. Also worrying about having another panic attack is a common characteristic. This can result in avoiding certain places or situations because of the fear that another panic attack might happen. Not only certain places may be avoided, also certain activities (like physical exercise) can be avoided. 

Why certain activities? For example, exercise increases heart rate and sweating, which are common symptoms of panic attacks. People with panic attacks may misinterpret these symptoms for anxiety or panic and become afraid of triggering their panic.   

Symptoms
During a panic attack, you are overwhelmed with fear. Also, a racing heart, shaking, feeling dizzy or finding it hard to breathe are common symptoms. A panic attack is caused by a rush of adrenaline, but because your body only has a limited supply of it, panic almost always passes within 10 minutes. After the panic attack, the person feels exhausted and often has lower grade symptoms of anxiety, until the body gets back to balance again. 

People describe having a panic attack with the thought that they are dying or losing control. Because they got so scared of panic, they are extremely afraid it will happen again. When the person feels an uncomfortable sensation in their body, it can therefore spiral into panic when misinterpreted.

Treatment
Treating panic disorder is best done by getting help from an anxiety coach or psychotherapist. A psychotherapist can help you identify your unhealthy thought patterns and interpreting your anxiety and panic in new ways. This often results in becoming more comfortable with feelings of anxiety to prevent them from spiralling into panic. Sometimes medication is used as well, which you can learn more about here. But always make sure you ask your health professional for advice regarding medication.

Type #5: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Anxious thoughts can be helpful sometimes. For example: thinking “I forgot to lock the door” helps you to keep your house safe from unwanted guests.

But when thoughts like these become obsessive and intrusive, they can interfere with your daily functioning. When you have OCD these obsessions make it hard to function properly. Often, they have compulsions in place to alleviate the distress or neutralize their obsessive thought. 

People with OCD often feel ashamed of their need to carry out their compulsions. This makes it hard for them to seek out professional help. 

Symptoms
Common issues that concern people with OCD and result in compulsive behavior are often about:

  • Excessive cleaning: think of cleaning the house, washing hands and other rituals to prevent contamination. 
  • Order: a need to place objects such as cutlery or other objects in a particular place or pattern.
  • Counting: counting items or objects, like their clothes.
  • Hoarding: hoarding items in a certain category. Think of newspapers or objects of interest.
  • Checking for safety: obsessive fears about harm either occurring to themselves or others. This results in excessive checking, such as repeatedly checking if the doors are locked.

Treatment
Getting professional help from an OCD coach or psychotherapist is the best treatment to overcome OCD. A psychotherapist can help you to identify unhealthy thought patterns that cause distress, to then help you overcome your compulsions.

Type #6: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTST can be developed after a person went through a traumatic event, which threatened their safety or others around them. These traumatic events could be a serious accident, torture, war, sexual assault or other events that caused trauma. 

The result of this trauma is that the person experiences feelings of hopelessness and fear, which can eventually spiral into depression.

Symptoms
People with PTSD often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to the fear they felt during the traumatic event. 

According to BeyondBlue.org, they can experience the following difficulties:

  • Reliving the traumatic event
  • Being overly alert or wound up
  • Avoiding activities, places or people associated with the event
  • Feeling emotionally numb

They often blame themselves for what happened and lose interest in what they used to enjoy. This can eventually cause the development of depression. 

Treatment
Many people recover on their own, or with help from friends and family. But if the trauma is more severe, help from a therapist is needed. This therapist should be specialized in PTSD to give you the most effective help possible. Often exposure therapy is used as well as certain medications. Always make sure you ask your health professional for advice regarding medication.

Takeaway

You now have a better understanding of the 6 major types of anxiety. After this guide you know what defines each type of anxiety, are aware of the symptoms, but also know how it is treated. 

If you want to know how to free yourself from anxiety, then watch my FREE Limited Time Training before it expires.

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About Wouter

Wouter is a mindset coach from The Netherlands. For many years he suffered from depression and anxiety. It gave him the motivation to coach people on freeing themselves from anxiety. With more than 6000 blog visitors a month he helps many people on their journey towards less anxiety.

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