We all react to stressful situations differently. Most of us, at some point, will have signs of anxiety, such as stress, nervousness, worry, or fear, until the situation or stressor passes. It’s a normal biological reaction.
But if your symptoms become persistent and excessive or interfere with daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
In this case, you’ll likely experience an overwhelming feeling of anxiousness that can be excessive and persistent, even when a stressor isn’t present. The symptoms are chronic and can interrupt daily life.
Anxiety disorders include:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- social anxiety disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
Read on to learn about the different types of anxiety disorders, how they’re diagnosed, and which treatment methods are available.
Anxiety can trigger symptoms like:
- excessive fear and worrying
- irrational fear of danger
- racing thoughts
- shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- sleep issues
- headache and stomachache
- pounding heart
- muscle tension
There are several types of anxiety or anxiety disorders. Here are some of the more common types according to the
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
If you have GAD, you’ll likely experience excessive worry that’s difficult to manage. This worry often takes the form of rumination, or spending a lot of time overthinking or mulling over different events in the future — how they may play out and how you may deal with them.
It’s not uncommon to have symptoms and not be able to explain why. For people with GAD, symptoms like those listed above are present most days and for at least the past 6 months.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
A person with OCD has thoughts that are difficult to control. They may find themselves repeating actions over and over.
If you have OCD, you might be extremely concerned about germs or having things in order. You may worry about feelings of aggression that you have toward others or that someone feels toward you.
You may also find it hard to manage thoughts of taboo subjects, such as sex, religion, or violence. Some people repeatedly do an action, such as checking that a door is locked or counting things.
A doctor might diagnose OCD if you:
an houror more each day having these thoughts or carrying out these types of actions
- the thoughts and actions bring no pleasure
- the thoughts and actions have a significant impact on your daily life
Panic disorder is characterized by recurring, unexpected panic attacks.
They often happen without warning and result in physical symptoms like:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
Symptoms may also involve feeling dissociated from reality or having a sense of impending doom.
In general, a panic attack lasts less than 20 minutes.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
People with PTSD experience anxiety related to a traumatic experience that has occurred in the past. It is a long-term condition that can cause symptoms for many years after the event, especially when not treated.
Symptoms of PTSD usually start within
If you have PTSD, you may experience:
- bad dreams
- frightening thoughts
- feelings of tension and anxiety
- trouble sleeping
- anger for no apparent reason
Some people change their routine to avoid triggers that remind them of the event.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
Social anxiety disorder, also referred to as social phobia, is a fear of being embarrassed, humiliated, or criticized in a public setting, like school or work.
You may have trouble talking with people or being in a large group. It’s not uncommon to avoid the places and situations that trigger this phobia.
Phobias and specific phobias involve an irrational, overwhelming, and excessive fear of a place, situation, or object. Some of the more common phobias include:
- acrophobia (fear of heights)
- claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces)
- aerophobia (fear of flying)
- hemophobia (fear of blood)
- trypanophobia (fear of needles)
- aquaphobia (fear of water)
Separation anxiety disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is most commonly diagnosed in kids, especially young children. However, adults can also experience this type of anxiety if they have extreme fear about something bad happening to a person in their life.
In children, the symptoms of fear, panic, worry, and anxiety surface when they’re separated from a parent or loved one.
Adults may have extreme fear and worry about something tragic happening to a family member or loved one, even when they’re together.
Agoraphobia often occurs in response to panic attacks. If you have agoraphobia, you feel extreme fear or anxiety about having a panic attack, or fear that something bad may happen in a specific place — usually outside the home.
You may avoid that place, usually confining yourself to the home, to stave off the possibility of something bad happening where you can’t access support or help.
You’ll often avoid feared places and situations at all costs.
Other types of anxiety
The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5)” also lists other, less common types of anxiety, including:
- selective mutism
- substance- or medication-induced anxiety disorder
- anxiety disorder due to another medical condition
Some mental health conditions are commonly referred to as anxiety disorders and may have once been classified as one, but now have a separate diagnostic category in the DSM-5. They include OCD and PTSD.
A mental health expert or medical doctor can diagnose anxiety. They’ll use different criteria based on the guidance of the DSM-5 to determine a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.
In addition to a lengthy physical examination and family history interview, your doctor will likely recommend a diagnostic test to assess your level of anxiety.
Some of the more common diagnostic tests include:
- Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale
- Hamilton Anxiety Scale
- Beck Anxiety Inventory
- Social Phobia Inventory
- Penn State Worry Questionnaire
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale
- Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale
Anxiety may feel overwhelming and all-consuming, but there are ways to treat the symptoms so you can feel better. The most common treatment methods for anxiety include:
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a form of treatment for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and other emotional difficulties or issues.
It typically involves a mental health professional and client working together to reduce or eliminate troubling symptoms that may be interfering with daily life. This professional can be a:
- social worker
Mental health professionals have several types of psychotherapy to choose from, but some are better suited for specific issues like anxiety.
While each professional uses their own treatment methods, here are some that are recommended to treat anxiety:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- exposure therapy
- acceptance and commitment therapy
- mindfulness-based therapy
- psychodynamic therapy
- interpersonal therapy
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are both first-line pharmacological treatments for anxiety. Examples include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This class of drugs includes sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and fluoxetine (Prozac).
- Tricyclics. Tricyclics include clomipramine (Anafranil) and imipramine (Tofranil).
- Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs include isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), selegiline (Emsam), and tranylcypromine (Parnate).
- Beta-blockers. Beta-blockers include propranolol and metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor).
Lifestyle modifications and alternative options
Complementary approaches and lifestyle modifications for managing anxiety symptoms include:
- relaxation techniques
- deep breathing
- daily physical activity
- mindfulness meditation
- good sleep hygiene
- minimizing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol
There’s no “cure” for anxiety. Rather, with the right treatment and interventions, you can learn to manage anxiety symptoms.
Treatment may require a combination of approaches. The most common forms of treatment include psychotherapy such as CBT, medications like SSRIs and benzodiazepines, and lifestyle modifications like deep breathing, exercise, and meditation.
Speak with a healthcare professional if anxiety is interfering with your everyday life.