According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults and approximately seven percent of children aged 3-17 each year.1 While we all experience anxiety from time to time, when it occurs so frequently that it interferes with work, school, relationships and the overall ability to function, you may have a disorder that needs to be addressed. However, it’s important that you know what kind of anxiety disorder you’re dealing with. Different types of anxiety disorders display unique symptoms and specific treatments can be tailored to help reduce the way these symptoms affect you or a loved one. Explore the six most common types of anxiety disorders, corresponding symptoms, and how to find help.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America characterizes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as persistent and excessive worry about almost everything in life, from job stress to family issues to financial concerns.2 People with GAD may even worry about things beyond their control. A doctor will likely diagnose GAD if excessive worry has been present most days for the past six months and if there are at least three other symptoms present. Common symptoms of GAD include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Stomach problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
While GAD is one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting more than three percent of Americans, fewer than half of people who have GAD seek medical care. GAD also tends to affect women twice as much as men.
Children are not immune to GAD either. Children with GAD are often overly self-critical and avoid activities in which they feel that they may not be able to perform perfectly. They also experience a number of physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscular tension, restlessness, heart palpitations, and stomach upset.3
Social Anxiety Disorder
More severe than shyness, social anxiety disorder is characterized by an excessive fear of judgment and a tendency to avoid social situations. People with social anxiety may find difficulty forming or maintaining relationships outside of their family and experience a range of physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, and trembling in triggering situations.
Affecting approximately 15 million American adults with symptoms typically starting around age 13, social anxiety is often triggered by interactions with other people, especially large or unfamiliar groups.4 A person with social anxiety may experience the following symptoms:
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Feeling self-conscious
- Having a hard time talking
- Rapid heart rate
- Worrying about events days or weeks in advance
- Using alcohol to calm nerves
- Avoiding school, work, or social functions
A combination of environmental or genetic factors can contribute to social anxiety, but the condition can also be triggered or worsened by bullying, family conflict, or even sexual abuse.5
The image of obsessive-compulsive disorder in popular media depicts a person who can't stop washing his or her hands. While this type of behavior can indicate OCD, the condition has a range of other possible symptoms. According to the International OCD Foundation, OCD is characterized by the compulsion to perform certain behaviors or an influx of unwanted, intense thoughts or images.6 These obsessions and compulsions can cause anxiety, fear, disgust, guilt and other unpleasant feelings. Often, repeating certain rituals provides the person brief relief, which causes these actions to become compulsive as well. It is estimated that 2 to 3 million adults in America are suffering from OCD and about 500,000 kids or teens.7 Common symptoms of the disorder include:
- Fear of contamination and dirt (which may result in excessive cleaning and/or handwashing)
- Needing order and symmetry
- Persistent thoughts about harming self or others
- Intruding thoughts of violence or sex
- Constantly needing to check if you’ve turned out the lights, turned off the stove, locked the door, etc.
- Following a strict routine and feeling extreme stress if this routine is interrupted
- Silently repeating phrases to oneself
- Excessive time spent completing ritualistic behaviors
According to the Mayo Clinic, biology and genetics can both contribute to OCD, but it can also be influenced by traumatic events.8 OCD may also be related to other mental health disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, or tic disorders.
Panic disorder affects around 6 million adults, or 2.7 percent of the population, with women twice as likely to be affected as men.9 According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, panic disorder often occurs during adolescence, though it can start as early as childhood and run in families.10 While many people have panic attacks just one or two times in their lifetime during times of extreme stress, people with panic disorder have recurrent and unexpected episodes and spend a large portion of their time worrying about another attack. If you have panic disorder, you experience intense physical fear reactions when no actual danger exists. These panic attacks include symptoms such as:
- Feeling of severe danger or impending doom
- Pounding heart
- Nausea or stomach cramps
- Chest pain
- Feeling of losing control
- Difficulty breathing
- Hot flashes
- Throat tightness
- Detached feeling
These symptoms usually peak and go away within a few minutes, leaving the person exhausted and shaken. If this sounds familiar, see your doctor right away. Left untreated, panic disorder can result in fear of leaving the house, depression, problems at work and school, and even suicidal thoughts.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Commonly called PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder describes intense nightmares, flashbacks and psychiatric symptoms that occur after a serious trauma. While PTSD was originally associated with war veterans, this condition can also occur after car accidents, natural disasters, physical violence or any other life-threatening event.
The American Psychiatric Association identifies four categories of PTSD symptoms:11
Changes in arousal and reactivity: Sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, startling easily, intense watchfulness, reckless behavior and irritability
Changes in mood and cognition: Detached feelings, lack of emotions, feelings of shame, anger or guilt, self-blaming, and loss of memory about the trauma
- Avoidance: Refusing to think about or talk about the traumatic event and avoiding triggers that create these memories, including situations, people and places
- Intrusive thoughts: Feelings of reliving the event, flashbacks and bad dreams
Phobias are characterized by an excessive and irrational fear reaction. Symptoms typically begin in childhood with the average age of onset being seven years old. This disorder affects around 8.7 percent of the U.S. population, with women twice as likely to be affected than men.12 Mental Health America categorizes three types of clinical phobias:13
- Specific phobias: This type of phobia causes irrational fear of a safe situation or object. Common examples include heights, animals, insects, driving, and thunderstorms. While childhood fears are normal and usually dissipate with time, phobias arise suddenly in teens or adults.Agoraphobia: This phobia is a fear of leaving the house. Most people who have agoraphobia worry that they will have a panic attack or get stuck in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, so they remain indoors so they stay "safe."
- Social phobia: Similar to social anxiety, this phobia manifests as a fear of embarrassment or humiliation in public. A person who has a social phobia often has low self-esteem and may become isolated from his or her peers.
How to Get Help
If you suspect that you have any of these types of anxiety, there are a number of steps you can take to start managing your symptoms. As a first step, we recommend making healthier lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and more. Controlling your screen time can also help you feel more mindful and less agitated if you have an anxiety disorder. While many people take anxiety medications for their symptoms, many of these pharmaceutical drugs can cause undesirable side effects like headache, nausea, weight changes, and more. A gentle alternative to these medications is Brillia, a non-prescription medication that gently and effectively targets anxiety symptoms at their source. Unlike popular anxiety medications that use harsh synthetic chemicals, Brillia uses antibodies to the S100B protein, which plays a crucial role in mood regulation. Without altering this protein’s concentration or causing any changes to blood chemistry, Brillia efficiently reduces anxiety, irritability, and restlessness without causing any harmful side effects. A unique quality about Brillia is that it works best in combination with healthy lifestyle factors known as the 5 Pillars, which emphasize proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlled screen time, and mindfulness practices. This holistic approach teaches users how to achieve long-term relief for stress and anxiety through easy lifestyle changes.
Find more resources on managing anxiety at the Brillia blog.
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