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Feeling anxious or nervous at times is a common part of life. But, when anxiety or fear becomes too much to handle, it may be the result of an anxiety disorder.
Before a person gets diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a psychiatrist or therapist must determine that their fear or anxiety is:
- Out of proportion to the actual situation
- Prevents you from functioning normally
If you’ve been experiencing extreme anxiety, be sure to consult with a licensed therapist.
You deserve to be happy and free of the emotional toll that anxiety can leave. Receiving treatment is an effective way to restore peace in your mind and body.
Until treatment occurs, you may feel stuck and powerless. You may fear the anxiety will persist.
It’s important to understand, manage, and reduce your anxiety. In this way, you can find your way towards fulfillment and happiness again.
One way of managing and reducing anxiety is the practice of mindfulness. If you are interested to learn more, I recommend the book Declutter Your Mind. With it, you'll learn several techniques that promote a sense of peace and happiness in your life.
The six main types of anxiety disorders and their sub-types are as follows. We will discuss each one in detail.
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), as defined by the Encyclopedia of Psychopharmacology, is an exaggerated anxiety and tension that persists for months on end.
The disorder affects nearly 6.8 million Americans.
Those who suffer from GAD tend to worry excessively and anticipate tragic events. Worry can include experiencing repetitive thoughts about health, money, and work. Or even everyday concerns like scheduling appointments and making car repairs.
Research has shown that GAD impacts twice as many women as it does men.
When anxiety reaches its highest point it can interrupt relationships and normal life.
A study performed by the New England Journal of Medicine further defines GAD as a chronic disorder that lasts for a minimum of 6 months. And the core, defining feature is, excessive worry.
They found that most patients struggle with the disorder for years before they seek treatment.
Based on the results of their study, they concluded that risk factors for GAD include low socioeconomic status, the female sex, and exposure to childhood adversity.
Such adversity includes; neglect, physical or sexual abuse, being a witness of domestic abuse, parental alcoholism, and drug use.
The age at which one typically experiences GAD varies. In some cases, the disorder can begin in childhood, but it tends to begin in early adulthood.
For older adults, the anxiety disorder could occur in the face of a chronic physical health condition.
Furthermore, the researchers noted that the disorder is commonly associated with depression, alcohol and drug use, or physical health problems.
Signs and Symptoms
Some of the commons signs and physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Muscle aches and tension
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sweating and hot flashes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disturbed sleep
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Back pain
Headaches and disturbed sleep are some of the commons signs and physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Before pursuing treatment options such as pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy, I recommend gathering more information first. To find sources of information on anxiety disorders you can visit, Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Although anxiety disorders are difficult to manage, they’re very treatable.
However, the problem is most people don’t seek treatment. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D, is a psychologist who specializes in evidence-based treatment for anxiety and related disorders.
He believes that “most individuals with anxiety disorders manage their anxiety through avoidance behaviors.”
Avoiding the reality of your anxiety is only a temporary fix. However, choosing to ignore the disorder can result in long-term anxiety, and create a cycle of further avoidance.
Fortunately, to feel better, you don’t need several years of therapy.
One such therapy option is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Psychiatrist, Aaron Beck founded CBT over 50 years ago. The aim of this therapy is to change thought patterns, beliefs, attitudes, and ultimately, behavior.
The therapy can help you face difficult situations, enabling you to more effectively reach your desired goals. As a reference, here are some techniques and tools that are used in CBT.
Research has a growing body of evidence that supports the benefits of exercise for some types of anxiety disorders, including GAD.
The researchers conducting the studies have found that exercise increases the protective effects against reactivity to stressors that anxiety can cause.
In one study, researchers examined the effects of 8-week aerobic and non-aerobic exercise programs for participants with panic disorder, SAD, and generalized anxiety disorder. All of the participants exercised for 30 minutes, three times a week.
After the 8-week study, the researchers found significant improvements in clinician-rated and self-reported measures of anxiety.
Types of exercises that can help with GAD include; walking, running, weight lifting, resistance training, yoga, and tai chi.
After completing an aerobic exercise you may feel some psychological distress. But that is not unusual. With time, however, positive psychological states and a reduction in your anxiety can occur.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Let's get physical: a contemporary review of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for anxiety and its disorders.
- 25 CBT Techniques and Worksheets for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- More Anxiety Experts Reveal What They Really Want Everyone to Know About Anxiety
Want some help to calm down when you feel stressed out? Check out some anxiety quotes top help keep you from spinning out of control.
2. Phobia-Related Disorders
Having a phobia means a person experiences intense fear of a specific situation, place, or an object. Feeling anxious before an interview, before a doctor’s appointment, and before participating in a sporting event is common.
However, when a person has a phobia-related disorder, their fear is not in proportion to the actual danger they’re facing.
This disorder differs from generalized anxiety disorder because a phobia relates to something specific.
Signs and Symptoms
These are some signs of people who have a phobia-related disorder:
- Views a small mistake in a much more exaggerated way.
- May experience excessive worry or intense anxiety about encountering the feared situation or object.
- Actively avoid the feared situation or object.
- Find blushing to be painfully embarrassing.
- May feel that everyone is looking at them.
- Fear of speaking in public, speaking to people of authority, dating, using public restrooms or eating out.
According to Healthline, the most common and disabling symptom of a phobia is a panic attack. People who experience a panic attack, encounter some of these symptoms.
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Increased blood pressure
- Trembling or shaking
- Chest pain or tightness
- A choking sensation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Intense sweating
- Feeling a sense of impending doom
Just like the name implies, a specific phobia affects people who have intense fear or anxiety of a specific object or situation.
Types of objects and situations that people may feel anxiousness about include:
- Fear of flying
- Specific animals, such as spiders, or snakes
- Getting shots or injections
- Sight of blood
More people are affected by specific phobias than they are by generalized anxiety disorders.
A total of 19 million Americans, or 8.7% have a specific phobia. Similar to GAD, women are twice as likely to be affected than men.
People with phobias often feel a sense of impending doom about encountering their feared situation or object.
The word agoraphobia means “fear of open spaces.”
For this disorder, fear is tied to a place or situation. Those who have agoraphobia fear large crowds or they fear being trapped outside their home.
To avoid the situation or place they fear, people with agoraphobia tend to avoid social situations and stay inside their homes.
People with this phobia are fearful of experiencing a panic attack somewhere where they can’t easily escape. Or where there is no help available.
Agoraphobia related fears include:
- Riding public transportation
- Being in open or enclosed spaces
- Waiting in line or being in a crowd
- Being outside of the home alone
A type of psychotherapy called exposure therapy works to change your response to the feared object or situation.
Exposing someone with a phobia-related disorder to the source of their fear gradually, and repeatedly, helps bring about different feelings and sensations. These feelings and sensations may help manage the anxiety.
The goal of exposure therapy is to help you develop coping skills.
For example, if the fear is specific to heights, therapy may start by simply thinking about getting into an elevator of a tall building.
Next, the therapy can introduce pictures of a tall building, then physically going near a tall building, to finally stepping inside the elevator.
Slowly and gradually, the next step would be riding up to the second floor, then up several floors, to finally stepping off the elevator at the top floor and looking out the window.
Another type of treatment for phobia-related disorders is behavioral therapy. It has been very effective in treating these types of disorders.
One technique used in this therapy involves diaphragmatic breathing. This is a form of deep breathing.
If exposure therapy and behavioral therapy weren’t completely successful for you, the next possible option is taking medication.
Medications should only be taken in the short-term, or for a specific use. Such as; flying, making a public speech, or during an MRI procedure.
3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be described as having intrusive thoughts, or obsessions, which increase a person’s anxiety. The other defining feature is taking repetitive or ritualistic actions, also called compulsions, to decrease one’s anxiety.
Research has shown that the most frequent symptoms in OCD are contamination concerns or concerns about harm to self or others.
After performing many studies, scientists have identified many obsessions and compulsions. Some of which are; sexual, religious, somatic, and musical in nature.
Signs and Symptoms
The Lancet defines obsessions as “recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress.”
Obsessions may include:
- Fear of contamination or germs
- Fear of misplacing or losing something
- Worries about harm towards oneself or others
- Unwanted thoughts that are taboo
- Putting objects or things in symmetrical or perfect order
It’s common for a person with OCD to suppress their persistent thoughts and impulses.
Also, they may attempt to neutralize the thoughts and impulses by distracting themselves with another thought or action.
Compulsions, on the other hand, are “repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand-washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to do in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
Compulsions may include:
- Cleaning or washing a body part excessively
- Hoarding or storing unnecessary items
- Arranging items in a precise manner
- Constantly checking on things, such as making sure the kitchen stove has been turned off
- Counting items repeatedly
- Always seeking reassurance
A common obsession is the fear of contamination or germs and a common compulsion associated with it is constant cleaning.
Similar to the other anxiety disorders we’ve discussed, an effective treatment for OCD is behavioral therapy. It may even be the best form of treatment for OCD.
OCD is believed to be a genetically-based problem, not a psychological one. Therefore, traditional talk therapy may not be of help. Likewise, relaxation techniques or thought-stopping are not helpful either.
The specific type of effective behavioral therapy shown for OCD is called Exposure and Response Prevention (E&RP).This type of behavioral therapy involves gradually confronting fearful thoughts and situations. At the same time, E&RP focuses on helping you resist compulsions.
Therapists helping OCD patients tell them to stay with the feeling that makes them anxious. The intention is for the patient to build a tolerance to the thought or situation.
Two factors tend to sustain compulsions in a person with OCD.
The first factor is doing the compulsion over and over, which convinces them they need to continue. Taking this path only creates more compulsions.
Secondly, compulsions continue because it becomes habitual. Even when the reason for the compulsion is forgotten, the compulsion naturally continues.
Behavioral therapy helps to question the probability of the fear coming true. Generally, the odds are very low that the fear ever becomes reality. Questioning your underlying logic can show you that your fears are often irrational.
Support groups can also be helpful if you have OCD. Here you can search for a support group near you.
- Break Free from OCD: Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with CBT by Challacombe, Bream-Oldfield, Salkovskis
- The Beating OCD Workbook: Teach Yourself by Stephanie Fitzgerald
- Overcoming Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by David Veale and Robert Willson
- OCD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Related Depression: The Definitive Survival and Recovery Approach (Pulling the Trigger) by Adam Shaw and Lauren Callaghan
- Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Irresistible Actions Take Over
- OCD and Self-Help Resources
4. Panic Disorder
People who have panic disorder experience repeated panic attacks. Along with the attacks comes the fear of future attacks. The fear causes people to make significant changes in their behavior.
Signs and Symptoms
- Frequent and unexpected panic attacks that are unrelated to a particular situation.
- Incessant worrying about future panic attacks.
- Exhibiting different behavior due to the panic attacks. Including the avoidance of places where the attacked had occurred.
A panic attack typically lasts for a few minutes, yet the effects of experiencing one can leave a lasting memory in your mind.
For those who have panic disorder, several panic attacks can become an emotional burden. The memories don’t quickly fade because the fear of the attack can be intense.
Eventually, the recurrent panic attacks can lead to a series of panic disorder symptoms.
Anticipatory anxiety leaves a person feeling very anxious and tense. The fear of having future panic attacks is almost always present, which can be difficult to manage.
Phobic avoidance means you avoid certain places or situations. The place that a panic attack previously occurred and places where it would be difficult to find help are avoided.
During a panic attack, people may experience:
- Heart palpitations, or a pounding heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath
- A choking feeling
- Feelings of impending doom, losing control
- Feeling unreal or detached from surroundings
- Cold or hot flashes
- Fear of dying, or going crazy
During a panic attack, people may experience heart palpitations, feelings of impending doom, fear of dying, or going crazy.
Why Do Panic Attacks Occur
The exact cause of this disorder and the reason for panic attacks are not completely known. However, research has found that panic attacks tend to run in the family.
Outside of that possibility, attacks can happen during a major life change.
They can happen when you change professions, have a baby, get married, or remodel your home.
Additionally, times of extreme stress, like the death of a family member, divorce, or loss of a home can trigger the attack.
Lastly, the onset of a panic attack can result from a medical condition. If you have experienced symptoms of panic, it’s advised to see a doctor.
Certain medical conditions can bring on panic, such as:
- Hyperthyroidism, having an overactive thyroid gland
- Hypoglycemia, having low blood sugar
- Mitral valve prolapse, a minor cardiac problem
- Overuse of stimulants, such as amphetamines, cocaine, or caffeine
- Withdrawing from medications
Self-help techniques can be very effective in reducing panic symptoms. These techniques include:
- Educating yourself about panic and anxiety
- Avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine
- Learning breathing techniques to help with breath control
- Practicing various relaxation techniques
- Learning to love yourself
- Spending time with family and friends
- Exercising consistently
- Getting quality and restful sleep
Therapy has been shown to be the single most effective treatment for those with panic disorder and those who have panic attacks.
Even a few sessions with a therapist can be helpful.
As mentioned with phobia-related disorders, both cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are the recommended forms of therapy.
- When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life by Dr. David D. Burns
- Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic (Treatments That Work) by Michelle G. Craske and David H. Barlow
- Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks by Dr. Reid Wilson
- Anxiety Disorders
- Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help Tips
- Panic Disorder Overview
- Panic disorder
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop after a near-death experience, a major injury, sexual violence, or another frightening event.
The event could have happened to you directly, or it could be something you witnessed.
Some examples of events that trigger PTSD include:
- A natural disaster such as an earthquake, tornado, or flood
- A serious car accident
- Severe physical injury
- Sexual assault or rape
- Fighting in a war zone or being attacked
- Suffering from a traumatic birth
- Being the witness to a murder or tragic death
In these situations or other traumatic events, it’s only natural to be scared. After enduring trauma, almost everyone experiences various emotions.
However, most of those people are able to recover in time. For anyone experiencing continual emotions and whose daily life has been interrupted, may have PTSD.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of PTSD tend to occur within 3 months of the traumatic event. In other cases, the symptoms don’t begin for years.
Someone becomes diagnosed with PTSD when their symptoms hinder relationships or their job and last longer than one month.
PTSD is not the same for everyone.
Some may have suicidal thoughts and want to harm themselves. Others will struggle with depression or anxiety, or become dependent on alcohol and drugs.
The trauma you’ve experienced may come back in the form of:
- Intense memories, flashbacks, or nightmares
- Sweating or heart palpitations
- Feeling the need to be ‘on guard’
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry or emotional reactions or outbursts
- Blaming yourself for the traumatic event
- Feeling hopeless
PTSD is not the same for everyone. Some may have suicidal thoughts. Others will struggle with depression or anxiety.
If you have experienced one or more of these symptoms regularly, you should seek help.
The most effective form of treatment for people with PTSD is talk therapy, designed for trauma.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
The goal of trauma-focused CBT is to help you deal with the traumatic event you endured. This is done by working through the various emotions and feelings you had during the event.
The work continues until those emotions become less stressful.
Treatment with a professional is intended to occur at a comfortable pace. If at any time you feel the treatment is moving too fast, tell your therapist rather than leaving treatment.
You can find helpful resources with information regarding the treatment of PTSD through these organizations:
The following support groups can help with your treatment.
- Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia Support Group – PTSD
- PTSD Meetup Groups
- My PTSD (online)
- Psych Forums Online-Support Group for PTSD
- PTSD Resources
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Help With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
6. Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, brings about feelings of intense anxiety or fear.
More specifically, these feelings occur in social settings where one feels judged, evaluated, or rejected.
Consequently, people with this disorder tend to avoid social situations. If a situation can’t be avoided, intense anxiety and distress ensue.
The disorder can leave those afflicted by it feeling powerless.
As the third largest psychological disorder in the country, about 7% of the United States population suffers from social anxiety.
On average, the onset of the disorder starts during adolescence.
As with some of the other types of anxiety disorders, the symptoms can significantly disrupt daily life. It can be difficult to have lasting romantic relationships, friendships, a job, and social life.
Those who suffer from this disorder are at a higher risk of developing depression and abusing alcohol.
Signs and Symptoms
- Avoid most social encounters, especially with strangers
- Fear of being teased or criticized
- Fear of being the center of attention
- Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach in social settings
- Blush, sweat, rapid heart rate, or tremble
- Difficulty making eye contact or speaking loud enough to be heard
- Feel self-conscious in front of new people
- Easily embarrassed
- Feelings of awkwardness
- Afraid others will judge them
- Avoid places with a lot of people
About 7% of the United States population suffers from social anxiety. Those who suffer from this disorder are at a higher risk of developing depression and abusing alcohol.
Even with the number of effective treatment options, less than five percent affected chose to seek treatment within the first year of the disorder’s onset. And more than 33 percent of those affected by the disorder waited 10 years before seeking treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Again, we see this therapy being used as an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder. Research has found that CBT offered in a group setting can be particularly helpful. For more information on this therapy click here.
Another treatment option to explore if you have social anxiety disorder is to join a support group. A ground setting offers unbiased and honest input from other people experiencing similar feelings as you.
Learning how others overcome their fears is valuable feedback that can help ease your fears and anxiety when in social situations.
6 Specific Methods for Handling Social Anxiety
Do you want some authentic tips to help you deal with your social anxiety? Check out this post that details six different REAL methods for dealing with social anxiety in any situation: Handling Social Anxiety
Here are a few helpful tips to overcome social anxiety:
- Understand, acknowledge, and become aware of the problem.
- Commit to cognitive-behavioral therapy or another treatment option, even if it becomes difficult.
- Continually practice the cognitive methods, strategies, and concepts you learned during therapy. Repetition can make these helpful tools become habitual and automatic.
- Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step” workbook by Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D.
- Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia by Cheryl N. Carmin, C. Alec Pollard, Teresa Flynn, Barbara G. Markway
- Diagonally-Parked in a Parallel Universe: Working Through Social Anxiety by Signe A. Dayhoff
- Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness
- Understand the Facts Social Anxiety Disorder
- What is Social Anxiety?
A person who has separation anxiety experiences intense fear or anxiety when they are away from their home or from a person, such as a mother or a husband.
Previously, this disorder was only recognized for people under the age of 18. Today, however, separation anxiety can be diagnosed at any age.
Separation anxiety disorder in the United States is estimated to affect between 0.9 to 1.9 percent of adults, 1.6 percent of adolescents, and 4 percent of children.
Males and females are just as likely to have this disorder.
Signs and Symptoms
- Experiences distress when away from home or a loved one.
- Worries an attachment figure will be harmed or lose their life.
- Worries an unexpected negative event will happen, such as getting lost, leading to the separation of an attachment figure.
- Doesn’t want to leave home for fear of being separated from their loved one/attachment figure.
- Doesn’t want to engage in social activities or sleepovers that will take them away from their home.
- Experiencing nightmares that involve being separated from home or loved one/attachment figure.
Separation anxiety disorder in the United States is estimated to affect between 0.9 -1.9% of adults, 1.6% of adolescents, and 4% of children.
In order for separation anxiety disorder to be diagnosed, symptoms must be present for at least one month in children and adolescents. For adults, symptoms must be present for at least six months or more.
In addition, symptoms must interfere with school, social, or occupational functioning to be diagnosed.
The treatment options for separation anxiety are the same options discussed for social anxiety disorder: CBT and support groups.
- Separation Anxiety
- What is separation anxiety disorder in adults?
- The prevalence and correlates of adult separation anxiety disorder in an anxiety clinic
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
Final Thoughts on Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders impact the lives of many people. Yet, as you’ve read, effective treatment options exist.
So, if any part of you believes you have a type of anxiety disorder, seeking treatment is a step worth taking.
No one should be alone in this. Help is out there, and your family and friends want to see you feel better.
If you are interested in learning powerful techniques that reduce anxiety, I recommend Declutter Your Mind. It features habits you can incorporate in your life for peace of mind and increased happiness.
I hope you feel empowered to take the necessary action to return to a happy, thriving, powerful you!
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allie Murphy is an avid traveler, seeker of the unknown, and lover of paperback books. She loves spending time with her beloved pup and fiance. When she’s not practicing her sun salutations, she’s writing poetry and enjoying her favorite drink, masala chai.