When the word “anxiety” is thrown around these days, it is used in many different contexts. It is often used nonchalantly in situations such as test-taking or clothes shopping. That kind of anxiety comes and goes from one day to the next. But when a person is diagnosed with anxiety disorder, he or she knows what it’s like to suffer from true anxiety or phobias that can interfere with one’s life or potentially become debilitating.
And while the majority of people experience some form of anxiety at least once in their lives, it becomes a problem when it begins to disrupt a person’s everyday life. While the term “anxiety” does cover a broad spectrum of issues, there are even more that fall under the umbrella than one would think. However, most professionals agree that there are essentially five to seven main types of the disorder. If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it may help you to figure out which type yours is or the category it falls under, so you can seek the appropriate treatment.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is the most common and most broad form of anxiety disorder. Those who suffer from GAD have constant worry, fear, and tension; it affects every aspect of their daily lives. GAD also usually cannot be pinpointed to a particular cause or event; GAD sufferers experience anxiety in an ongoing, persistent manner. And while GAD is the most common, general form, it tends to be common in those who experience other anxiety disorders as well. GAD is often characterized by muscle tension, restlessness, trouble focusing, and obsessive thoughts.
- Panic Attack Disorder
Panic Attack Disorder is dramatically different from GAD. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear that only exists in the person’s mind and is not grounded in reality, such as a sense of impending doom or death. Panic attacks often are also accompanied by physical symptoms that make the sufferer feel like they’re having a heart attack or another serious medical emergency. After a person experiences a panic attack, they can develop a secondary disorder, which may include fear of a panic attack—so it’s important to recognize the disorder and stop it before it continues to worsen.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder stemming from a situation or event where the sufferer’s life was in danger or may have been in danger. PTSD is a common disorder among soldiers after returning home from war, where they experienced a lot of death and injury, and their lives were potentially in danger at all times. It can also occur after a personal attack or the death of a loved one. Sufferers usually have at least one trigger that activates the PTSD, causing them to go into fight-or-flight mode and relive the traumatic experiences. They also often experience nightmares and have flashbacks during the day, keeping them on alert and stressed. Those with PTSD should seek professional help as soon as possible to avoid a more intense form of the disorder.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder causes a person to have persistent and recurring thoughts and impulses that may lead to actions. While obsessions and compulsions are similar, they manifest themselves differently in that obsessions are thought-based while compulsions are behavioral. A person may obsess over a specific thought and not be able to move on from it, and with compulsions, sufferers often feel the need to repeat certain behaviors and cannot stop themselves. Many times, the thoughts and behaviors are connected; the thought becomes an obsession, and thus, the person repeats an action to avoid or cause something related to the obsession. Sometimes, the sufferer finds an action that seems to decrease their anxiety a bit, so they will repeat the action endlessly in an attempt to continue reducing the anxiety. Unfortunately, repetitive behaviors only further the disorder, leading to another vicious cycle, so professional help is necessary to improve this condition.
Agoraphobia is the fear of going out in public, sometimes the fear of being in unknown places or large, open spaces. Some people with agoraphobia can never leave their homes, and some can go a few places that they feel comfortable with but nowhere else. Often they feel an intense fear that prevents them from going somewhere new. Agoraphobia sufferers usually—but not always—experience panic attacks and are diagnosed with panic disorder. This makes sense because the sufferer may have a panic attack in a public place and therefore want to avoid that place (or all public places) to avoid the panic attacks. Eventually, the person will be afraid to go anywhere and afraid to be in a place where they are not in control, so they stay home where they feel safe and comfortable.
- Social Phobia
Social phobia and agoraphobia can be somewhat connected, as someone who doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the house may also have a fear of social situations, which is the main component of social phobia. Social phobia is not to be confused with a normal amount of shyness or nervousness while speaking in public, for example. Fears of social situations turn into phobias when they cause a person to routinely avoid social or public situations for fear of being observed or judged or for fear that they will embarrass themselves in front of people. Social Phobia sufferers see social situations as potentially painful situations for them, as they may feel overwhelmed and anxious around others. They may also feel anxiety when thinking of social situations, not just when in the midst of them. As a consequence, social phobia can develop into agoraphobia for someone who wants to avoid the public altogether.
- Specific Phobias
A specific phobia is a fear of something like a specific object or scenario. Arachnophobia is a common example of a phobia, and it is somewhat irrational in that most spiders don’t even hurt people, yet sufferers are deathly afraid of them. Some examples of other phobias are fear of blood, snakes or other animals, thunderstorms, etc. The fear usually is far worse than the actual danger itself, but the phobias can disrupt a person’s daily life regardless. Fear can be determined to be a phobia when the sufferer is gripped with terror despite knowing that the fear is irrational—and the person goes to great lengths to avoid the object or situation. Like social phobia, specific phobias can cause stress or anxiety with the mere thought of the object, not simply exposure to it.
Anxiety Due to a Medical Condition
One more category of anxiety is the type of anxiety brought on by a medical condition. Sometimes an illness or disease like a heart condition can cause a person to develop anxiety. Perhaps the condition causes the person to be afraid of going out in public due to the illness, or perhaps they have an increased fear of death due to the condition. It is also a possibility that it causes the sufferer to be unable to accept the condition as reality, thus triggering anxiety and maybe even depression as a result. This type of anxiety may go away if the condition is improved, or it may remain long-term, especially if it is untreated.
Short-term and Long-term Anxiety Disorders
While the majority of disorders mentioned above are considered long-term disorders, there are some that are categorized as short-term. Anxiety that develops in response to a trauma or life-changing event is usually short-term. One such short-term disorder is acute stress disorder, which follows a traumatic event. The anxiety may be intense, but the symptoms often dissipate rather quickly when the person returns to normal. Anxiety following an event such as a marriage, divorce, or move is usually considered a short-term adjustment disorder. In the case of anxiety with substance abuse, it may be triggered when a person quits the substance or after the withdrawal symptoms have passed, but this will be short-term as well.
Since anxiety disorders can take on so many forms, it is best to assess your situation and see which one best fits you if you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety. Regardless of your disorder, it is always best to seek professional help to assist you in dealing with and working toward overcoming your anxiety.