Understanding the 6 Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety word in neon against blue/black

"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."

6 Types of Anxiety Disorders

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.

What Are the Different Types of Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders refer to a spectrum of mental health conditions characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, or apprehension. They range from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which involves chronic, uncontrollable worry about various aspects of life, to social anxiety disorder, which is marked by an intense fear of social situations, leading to avoidance or significant distress. Other anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which involves intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors, panic disorder, which is characterized by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which typically arises after exposure to a traumatic event. There are also specific phobias, like a fear of heights, or fear of small spaces, which involve irrational fears of specific objects or situations, leading to avoidance. 

Each anxiety disorder presents its own set of challenges, but they share a common thread of excessive anxiety that can impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall well-being. They can also occur together or alongside other mental health conditions like depression. Learn more about these disorders and their corresponding symptoms below.

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

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
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Exhaustion 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue

While GAD is one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting more than 3 percent of Americans, fewer than half of people who have GAD seek medical care.3 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 upset stomach.4 

2. Panic Disorder

Panic disorder affects around 6 million adults, or 2.7 percent of the population, with women twice as likely to be affected as men.5 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.6 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.  Keep in mind, that while symptoms of anxiety attacks occur gradually over a period of excess worry, symptoms of panic attacks occur suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and may include:

  •     Feeling of severe danger or impending doom
  •     Pounding heart
  •     Shaking
  •     Chills
  •     Nausea or stomach cramps
  •     Chest pain
  •     Feeling of losing control
  •     Sweating
  •     Difficulty breathing
  •     Hot flashes
  •     Throat tightness
  •     Headaches
  •     Detached feeling
  •     Dizziness

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.

Safely reduce anxiety, impulsivity and lack of focus in children, teens and adults.

3. Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

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.7 A person with social anxiety may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Feeling self-conscious
  • Having a hard time talking
  • Nausea 
  • Sweating 
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blushing
  • 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.8 

Often used interchangeably with social anxiety, social 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.

4. Specific Phobias

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.9 

Common examples of social phobias 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 is another type of phobia, which refers to the fear of leaving the house or being in places or scenarios from which it might be too difficult or humiliating to escape, like an elevator or a room full of people. 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."

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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.10 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.11 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.12 OCD may also be related to other mental health disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, or tic disorders, which refer to sudden and often involuntary twitches, movements, or sounds that are performed repeatedly.

6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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:13

  • 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

 When to Seek Professional Help

If you suspect that you have any of these types of anxiety, there are a number of anxiety treatments and resources you can consider to start managing your symptoms. Working with a therapist, especially one that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help reduce anxiety related to these disorders by acknowledging your negative thinking patterns and distortions and taking steps to correct them. The idea is that changing the way you think changes the way you feel and behave. In some cases, exposure therapy is proposed, in which individuals are exposed to triggering situations to replace avoidant behavior. Studies show that even short-term sessions of CBT can significantly improve anxiety and depression symptoms among patients with anxiety disorders.

Another crucial step consists of making healthy lifestyle changes to manage your anxiety at home. In some cases, such lifestyle changes may seem unrelated to anxiety, though they are clinically proven to help control symptoms. Here are some ideas: 

  • Proper nutrition: Following a healthy diet has been shown to reduce or even prevent anxiety. In one 2021 review on dietary patterns, research revealed a connection between high-fat diets and higher levels of anxiety. Individuals who followed a diet consisting of more fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acid were less likely to be anxious. 
  • Adequate sleep: Just as important as proper nutrition is  adequate sleep, which helps to nurture both mental and emotional resilience. Practicing good sleep hygiene like going to bed early and avoiding screens and caffeine before bed can help you sleep better and stress less. 
  • Mindfulness and relaxation: Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can actually change the way your brain responds to stress and anxiety by quieting the “fight or flight” center of the brain.. 
  • Controlled screen time: Controlling your screen time can also help you feel more mindful and less agitated if you have an anxiety disorder. There’s some evidence that screen time contributes to poor sleep and lack of physical activity, which can exacerbate anxiety.
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs: Abusing substances can worsen anxiety or even cause it. While you may feel temporarily relaxed if you unwind with a drink or two before bed, if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may experience a rebound anxiety effect when the buzz wears off. Alcohol and drugs can also interfere with sleep, making your anxiety even more apparent.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise helps to reduce stress and anxiety by burning off excess energy, clearing the mind, and boosting endorphins. You may also find that you sleep better if you’re more physically active during the day.
  • Support groups: There are support groups for anxiety or specific disorders you can find online or in-person, which can help you build a community of support. You can also learn coping techniques and strategies you may not have considered before.  

If you make such changes and still need more support, taking a non-prescription medication like Brillia can help. Brillia gently and effectively addresses anxiety symptoms at their source by targeting  the S100B protein, which plays a crucial role in interneuronal communication and 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 like drowsiness or nausea. A unique quality about Brillia is that it works best in combination with the healthy lifestyle factors included in our holistic  5 Pillars, which emphasize proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlled screen time, and mindfulness practices as a foundation for managing anxiety long-term. This holistic approach teaches users how to achieve lasting relief for stress and anxiety through easy lifestyle changes. The goal is that once you adjust to these behaviors and they become automatic, you will be able to successfully manage your anxiety on your own, eventually needing less and less of any medication, though you can continue taking Brillia as long as it is providing support. 

Find more resources on managing anxiety at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders, 2https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad, 3https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics, 4https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/g/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad, 4https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder, 5https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/social-phobia#causes, 6https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/, 7https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/who-gets/, 8https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432, 9https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics, 10https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Panic-Disorder-In-Children-And-Adolescents-050.aspx, 11https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd, 12https://mhanational.org/conditions/phobias, 13https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887618520301596, 14https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8706568/
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