Types of Anxiety Disorders

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Do you worry about public speaking, falling ill, or simply getting through your day? There's a common theme to each of these worries. It's anxiety. In general terms, anxiety is excessive fear or worry. However, not all anxiety is alike. There are many types of anxiety disorders. Together, they affect about 40 million adults in the United States.

Symptoms of the most common types of anxiety disorders may overlap, but the triggers can vary.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder involves a sudden, severe fear that comes along with physical symptoms. A panic attack causes a fast heartbeat, chest pain, sweating, shaking, nausea and more. People having a panic attack may become very afraid of dying or becoming mentally ill. Panic attacks often happen without warning. That causes people with panic disorder to live in constant fear of having another panic attack.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces. Agoraphobics often worry about going into a public place and not being able to get away. Agoraphobia usually occurs in people with panic disorder. That's because they become afraid of going back to places where they had a panic attack. Some people have such severe agoraphobia that they can't leave their homes or can go only limited distances in a set route.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

People with GAD worry excessively every day, often for no reason. They may worry about money, work, health or other issues. The worrying is so severe they may feel exhausted by it. Some people develop headaches or other health complaints. They might not be able to focus on or finish work or school assignments. They might not be able to fulfill other responsibilities because of their anxiety. Other symptoms of GAD include trouble sleeping; tense muscles; or feeling tired, irritable, restless or "wired."

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

People with OCD have constant worries that they can't stop. They practice rituals or behaviors over and over again to provide some relief from the anxiety, at least for a while. For instance, someone obsessed with germs and getting sick may compulsively wash their hands.

OCD thoughts and rituals take up an hour or more of every day. This makes it hard to function on the job or at home. People with OCD can't stop these rituals, even when they know they're spending too much time on them.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

People with PTSD have either seen or experienced a terrifying event. Examples include war, abuse and other types of violence. They are so afraid of the event happening again that they avoid certain places and situations. People with PTSD also have flashbacks of the traumatic event. Depression, guilt and bad dreams are other symptoms of PTSD.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder is not the same as simply feeling shy in social situations. People with this condition have an intense fear of being humiliated in public. They may be afraid to speak or participate at school, at work or at any get-together. Social anxiety disorder can make people feel very isolated and alone. Some people have panic attacks because of this disorder.

Getting Help

It’s important to distinguish everyday-type anxiety from an anxiety disorder. Our body experiences anxiety—both emotional and physical signs and symptoms—as a survival mechanism when we encounter a stressful or frightful event. This helps us deal with the situation at hand. But some people experience this even when there is no real danger.

If anxiety seems to be taking over your life, or the life of a loved one, it’s time to get help. With a medical diagnosis, you can begin working on effective strategies to gain control of your thoughts and improve your symptoms. There are many successful treatment approaches for anxiety disorders.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  2. Agoraphobia. U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024921/

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  7. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Anxiety & Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd

  8. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml 

  9. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

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  11. Social Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder