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What are the different types of anxiety?

Susan Vachon

Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on January 10, 2022

There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with their own distinct features. These include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and separation anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences persistent and excessive worry about everyday events more days than not for at least six months.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by a constant and excessive worry about multiple aspects of everyday life. These concerns, which often seem insurmountable, can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. While everyone feels anxious occasionally – even in social situations or worrying about work deadlines – generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is different in that it lasts for more than six months. It’s also distressing enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Panic Disorder

A panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks. This differs from normal anxiety, which does not include repeated attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath or a feeling that something awful is about to happen. The fear in panic disorders usually occurs out of proportion to what’s happening in your life and often has no obvious trigger.

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Phobias are extreme fears, and often reactions to single situations or stimuli. The word phobia is actually a Greek term meaning “fear of.” Common phobias include acrophobia (the fear of heights) and claustrophobia (the fear of small spaces). Social phobias can also be debilitating, affecting one’s ability to speak in public or interact with strangers. A person suffering from social anxiety will experience feelings such as butterflies in their stomach and shortness of breath upon meeting new people.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a condition in which a person has an extreme fear of being watched and judged by others and worries about acting in a way (or showing signs of anxiety) that will be embarrassing or humiliating. It’s also known as social phobia, which involves intense fears related to one or more everyday social situations—such as speaking to strangers, eating in public, and using public restrooms. With social anxiety disorder, you may be afraid of being negatively evaluated by others in your life.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by overwhelming feelings of distress, unease, and/or obsession over thoughts or activities. Obsessions are recurring, unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images in your mind that seem to be triggered out of nowhere. They can cause you to fear for your safety or worry about doing something wrong. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or rituals meant to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that affects people who have experienced extreme trauma. It’s an anxiety disorder characterized by feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror following a dangerous event. PTSD can develop after a range of life-threatening events, including military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents, violent personal assaults like rape or mugging, and more. Symptoms include insomnia and nightmares. If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder you may experience flashbacks to your traumatic event.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is a form of anxiety disorder that develops when people don’t have enough support and guidance during childhood, which can leave them feeling insecure and fearful. Although it is normal for children to have separation anxiety when being separated from caregivers (both parents or primary caretakers), in some cases separation anxiety disorder can continue into adulthood. In adults, it’s much more common in women than men.

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