While anxiety is often looked at as a mental health condition in and of itself, it’s actually much deeper and more complicated. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorder, each of which has a unique set of symptoms and required treatment.
It can be difficult for some to differentiate between these types of anxiety disorder as many symptoms overlap. However, it’s important to understand the differences as they aren’t all treated the same.
Throughout this article, we’re going to look at the types anxiety disorders, how they manifest, how they are diagnosed, what the best treatment route is. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
One of the most restrictive forms of anxiety are those is known as agoraphobia. To put it simply, agoraphobia is a fear of being in public, usually having to deal with unsafe conditions, the amount of people surrounding a given area, or having to travel to a place that feels foreign. ¹
When it comes to agoraphobia, a lot of people hold the misconception that it’s a fear of wide open spaces or of people in general. However, those are just a few of the many things that someone struggling with this condition may experience.
Those that suffer from agoraphobia usually have episodes that coincide with having to go out and do a major thing. It’s common that an underlying anxiety ultimately spurs the agoraphobic episode(s) and the triggers it when the person struggling goes into the outside world.
There are other misconceptions about agoraphobia, such as:
- Inability to be with others
- Inability to leave the house
- Inability to maintain a significant relationship
- Maintain a shut-in mentality when it comes to life
While these misconceptions are true in some cases, most who struggle with the condition are simply unable to be by themselves, travel alone, or exist in a day-to-day routine without external help from a trusted loved one. Those that suffer from agoraphobia might not leave the house without having a companion, someone who they trust to guide and assist them in anxiety-inducing events. ²
Those that struggle with agoraphobia will have episodes which usually kick in when they’re in an environment or situation that they aren’t used to or is outside their comfort zone. For example, a person may avoid crowded events or bustling streets as these trigger their symptoms.
Trigger points can jumpstart various symptoms of agoraphobia that usually come in cycles called “agoraphobic episodes” (more commonly known as panic attacks). In these instances, the person struggling might start to feel symptoms that involve not only internal thoughts but also external behaviors and responses.
Typically, symptoms will appear in three different manners: ³
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Discomfort in stomach, chest, and/or head
- Feeling faint, sick, and/or weak
- Increased heartrate
- Increased or labored breathing
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
- A growing desire or attempts to try and leave a particular situation, environment or company that has triggered the panic attack in the first place
- Embarrassment, self-consciousness
- Outbursts of hostility, aggression, frustration, and/or depression that seem sudden and strange in the given situation
- Desperation for help, assurance that everything is alright
- Fear of others, surroundings, and/or situations that become overwhelming
- General anxiety or paranoia
- Slowness or throttling in thoughts and reactions
Agoraphobia seems like an insurmountable challenge – especially when one fears leaving their own household. However, this is a very treatable condition and many have gone on to live out fulfilling lives.
While there are many ways to treat agoraphobia, you’ll want to find a medical facility that caters to your needs. Not all people benefit from the same treatments and, therefore, it’s vital you find help that looks into your specific situation.
Admittedly, there is no standard when treating agoraphobia. However, the most common and effective agoraphobia treatments include: ⁴
- Self-help techniques for everyday issues
- Talk therapy or group therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Extreme exposure therapy
- Medications including antidepressants, antipsychotics
One of the most controversial treatment options of agoraphobia is exposure therapy – taking the person struggling and placing them into situations they are uncomfortable with. While it’s not necessarily recommended (especially when you start treatment), some do benefit from exposure therapy.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a continuous running track of concerns or worries that grow in ferocity and volume as time goes on. GAD is different from normal anxiety patterns most experience in the sense that it’s persistent – usually lasting 2 weeks to 30 days. ⁵
If you’ve experienced anxiety that inhibits your day-to-day life and has made it difficult to carry out responsibilities, chances are you’re struggling with a type of anxiety disorder. The difficulty is many professionals may assume an individual struggles with GAD when, in reality, they’re actually struggling with another form of anxiety.
In order to properly differentiate GAD from other anxiety disorders, it’s key to understand the symptoms and underlying causes.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
The symptoms of GAD mirror what typical anxiety looks like for every person. However, the key difference is the cyclical nature of these symptoms and the frequency in which they appear. If you’ve struggled with the following for a long period of time, chances are you may be suffering from GAD: ⁶
- General feeling of weakness or fatigue
- Heightened feelings of nervousness, agitation, irritability, or hostility (especially in an environment that poses as a trigger)
- Increased heart rate (hyperventilating in some cases)
- Sense of impending doom that coincides with paranoia and panic
- Sleep problems (insomnia in most cases – though, some may experience too much sleep)
- Stomach sensitivity (nausea, vomiting)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment
GAD’s treatment plan usually involves a mix of psychotherapies (talk therapies) and medications (antidepressants and/or mood stabilizers). While most people benefit from traditional treatment, you’re much more likely to overcome GAD if you develop self-coping techniques. ⁷
In both treatment and coping mechanisms, there is no standard “one size fits all” approach. Anxiety is an extremely complicated disease that requires specific treatment for each individual. If you are currently or about to undergo treatment, be sure to be as detailed with you mental health professional as possible. This will allow them to understand your circumstances and the right recovery path for you.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which a person loses the ability to control compulsions and thoughts. The disorder is common amongst US adults with an estimated 2-3 million of our population dealing and managing it annually. ⁸
OCD typically exhibits with physical behaviors that usually come in cycles or patterns. Those that are affected by this condition often report that acting out compulsions gives them a sense of peace and calmness. However, continuing with such conduct has been found to actually worsen symptoms.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms
The common symptoms of OCD are obsessive and intrusive thoughts as well as acting out behaviors that seem unusual to others. OCD is a complex condition that features subgroups for symptoms, as these subgroups relate specifically of how the disorder works on your mental state.
There are two main subgroups when it comes to OCD. These include: ⁹
- Aggressive thoughts – either towards oneself or others
- Fear of contamination due to bacteria or germs
- Obtrusive undesired thoughts (usually involving sensitive subjects such as sex, violence, or blasphemy)
- Overwhelming desire for perfection, symmetry, and order
- Checking and often double checking back on actions, decisions, or conversations due to anxiety over how something was done or said by them
- Necessity to make oneself and environment cleanly
- Organizing out of necessity, often to an extreme point
It’s important to note that there are other signs that point to one struggling with OCD thoughts and compulsions. Just like anxiety in and of itself, OCD is a complex condition that doesn’t effect everyone the same.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Treatment
In order to treat OCD, one must first come to understand what triggers OCD compulsions. Through this knowledge, mental health professionals will have an easier time helping you overcome symptoms. The most common form of therapy that has proven effective for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT a therapy in which one is taught to address trauma and triggers and change their responses to said exacerbating conditions. CBT has shown long-term success in actively neutralizing OCD thoughts and giving the patient the ability to finally take control of their condition. ¹⁰
There are medications that can assist with treating OCD. Such medications can only be prescribed by a psychologist and usually coincides with a prescribed treatment plan including but not limited to talk therapy, behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy. Such medications might include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics.
A panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes sudden feelings of danger even when there doesn’t seem to be an apparent threat. It’s quite common for those struggling with panic disorder to feel as though they are losing control of their thoughts and sometimes behavior. ¹¹
Most people with a panic disorder have issues forming long-lasting relationships. In turn, they end up alienating themselves from potential support groups. While all anxiety disorder types have an effect on day-to-day life, those struggling with a panic disorder seem to be the most vulnerable to these issues.
Panic Disorder Symptoms
Panic disorders typically result outward signs of panic which is commonly referred to as a panic attack. When one is experiencing a panic attack, it typically can last from a few seconds to several minutes and will involve the following symptoms:
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or faintness
- Fear of loss of control and/or death
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
- Hot flashes
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Shortness of breath or tightness of throat
- Trembling or shaking
Unlike other forms of anxiety, a panic disorder is much more likely to be visually seen by others. ¹²
Panic Disorder Treatment
Like with other anxiety disorders, the treatment plan for panic disorder is very similar with a combined treatment plan that involves talk therapy, behavioral therapy, and medication. However, one of the most effective forms of treatment is developing coping mechanisms. The difficulty with anxiety as a whole is it appears suddenly.
When it comes to a panic disorder, most people don’t know when they’ll experience one and, when it does happen, it feels as though they’re losing control. For this reason, developing coping mechanisms for these sudden attacks can prove to be extremely helpful alongside traditional treatment.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that commonly is precipitated by a traumatic event. Individuals who struggle with PTSD have a difficult time processing their trauma and often develop symptoms out of this difficulty. ¹³
Those who are most likely to develop PTSD are those that serve as front line workers, such as firefighters, policer officers, EMS response teams, and members of the military. However, PTSD isn’t limited to these individuals and can happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic experience. Some include those who’ve been in a bad car accident or those who’ve experienced sexual assault. ¹⁴ In fact, there are so many types of trauma that many individuals struggle with this form of anxiety without even realizing it.
Unlike some anxiety disorders, PTSD is usually easier to identify as there is an underlying event which triggers the symptoms.
Most PTSD symptoms involve reliving and repeating the situation of set of circumstances that lead to the traumatic event. The reliving of said event or events can be incredibly stressful and often having further repercussions with trying to process and move on from the trauma.
When we talk about reliving an event, either through voluntary or involuntary means, we are describing a situation in which a patient will experience vivid flashbacks, dreams or nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and have intense paranoia when it comes to the trauma or anything that closely relates to the trauma.
The other common symptoms include, but of course are not limited to the following: ¹⁵
- A disturbance in sleep (usually through nightmares) or, in some cases, lack of sleep altogether
- Changes in daily behaviors and/or personal and work performance
- Difficulties in either or both working and personal relationships
- Foggy memory and numb mind (especially right after traumatic events)
- Issues with mood, concentration and processing thoughts and emotions
- Practicing in avoidance behaviors or in poor coping skills (i.e. being unable to want to discuss or move on, drinking or using substances in order to cope)
- Sudden alertness, flashes of anger, frustration, and/or intense bouts of extreme paranoia
Treating PTSD is not an easy task, but it’s very possible. In order to address PTSD, you must first address the underlying trauma. This means you’ll not only have to process the trauma but also find ways to move on while coping with the effects of the trauma.
Treating PTSD is something that takes a multi-focused approach in order to create the correct and fairly balanced treatment plan that works best for you. However, that being said, most clinicians outline the basic treatment of PTSD as the following:
- Talk Therapy – On top of traditional talk therapy with a licensed mental health provider, other sorts of therapy are often prescribed in order to better deal with the underlying trauma or to help with establishing sound coping mechanisms. Sometimes mental health professionals advise on specific targeted therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or certain kinds of exposure therapies.
- Medication Regimen – Medication can greatly aid the patient through the stages of treatment and help the patient get some relief from some of their symptoms. Most clinicians use selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, commonly referred to as SSRIs. SSRIs take the form of antidepressants and great aid with depression, which is a major symptom subset in PTSD patients. ¹⁶
- Self Care Techniques – With PTSD, it’s often encouraged that patients develop their own self coping techniques that can establish healthy and supportive ways to deal with stressful or triggering circumstances.
While there is a standard treatment route for those struggling with PTSD, there is no plan that has worked for everyone. You may need to go through some trial and errors before discovering the right treatment plan for you.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is a condition in which the patient fears and has paranoia over being separated by a caregiver, a loved one, or a trusted person that serves as a support. ¹⁷
Separation anxiety disorder oftentimes will develop in early childhood as children are the most prone to have separation anxiety with their parents or guardians. However, that being said, those that have witnessed or undergone violent or stressful situations might also have separation anxiety as they fear being separated from those that they feel comforted and supported by.
In times of chaos, violence, and uncertainty, it’s common for adults to experience separation anxiety disorder and it can be incredibly stressful not only to the patient but also to those that love and support them.
Separation Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
The symptoms of separation anxiety disorder are as follows: ¹⁸
- Consistent nightmares, flashbacks or reoccurrences of awful events
- Feelings of distress or worry when it comes to losing a loved one or that something awful is going to happen
- Inability to be alone either inside or outside the home
- Issue with sleep or inability to fall asleep
- Physiological responses to increased stress and concern that may include headaches, stomachaches, nausea or increased amounts of physical and mental fatigue
People who struggle with separation anxiety disorder may be unable to sleep by themselves, be by themselves, or venture out of a place of comfortability alone.
Separation Anxiety Disorder Treatment
Treating separation anxiety disorder is sort of a tricky thing as it requires you to be willing and able to make adjustments to arrangements within your own life along with the person(s) you’re attached to.
The most common occurrence is that a child who is struggling with separation anxiety will have symptoms that develop and grow in intensity to a point that said loved ones are unable to control the patient on their own. Issues inside the home, within friend or family groups and in school can force a parent or loved one to address these complex issues with a mental health professional.
The typical treatment is talk therapy with a licensed counselor or clinician, usually with specialized focused therapy options for children and their families that are dealing with separation anxiety disorder. Other forms of therapy can also help. For example, play therapy can teach a child socialization skills in order to interact and play with others their age. ¹⁹
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a fear of social situations involving large crowds or social interaction with other people. Oftentimes, this anxiety develops due to a underlying fear of being judged or humiliated by others. ²⁰
There are those that confuse SAD with agoraphobia. However, they are different and each have a distinct difference in reasoning:
- Those that suffer from agoraphobia fear having an anxiety attack or losing the ability to control themselves in a triggering situation.
- Those with social anxiety disorder fear public situations due to an underlying false belief that they will be judged or mocked socially.
While similar sounding at first, agoraphobia and SAD each have their own set of triggers, symptoms, responses, and treatment methods. ²¹
Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
People that struggle with SAD will experience anxiety beyond a scale considered normal when it comes to social situations and social interactions with others. These will appear in three different manners: ²²
- Emotional outbursts, often involving frustration and agitation while in public
- Fear of others, being watched, or being noticed
- Relying on the safety and security of others in order to get through normal social situations or interactions
- Dizziness, weakness, or fainting
- Increased heartrate
- Increased paranoia of actions and reactions as it refers to other’s opinions
- Increased rates self-consciousness and self-shame
- Taking great pains to utilize avoidance techniques in order to limit the chances of embarrassment
- Worrying about how others see them
Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment
When it comes to treating SAD, the most effective option for most patients is some sort of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). SSRIs (also referred to as antidepressants) are often used alongside CBT talk therapy options and help in easing some of the more strenuous symptoms of the disorder. ²³
Serotonin and norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the common medications for SAD. SNRIs not only replaces the serotonin levels but also aids in providing norepinephrine to the brain. ²⁴
Specific phobia is defined as an irrational fear of something that poses little to no threat of actual danger. There are different types of specific phobias and each have their own stages and symptoms. Some of the most common include: ²⁵
- Aerophobia – the fear of flying, usually as a passenger in airplane or helicopter.
- Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders.
- Claustrophobia – the fear of being confined in a constricted space.
- Driving Phobia – the fear of operating a motor vehicle.
- Emetophobia – the fear of vomiting.
- Hypochondria – the fear of falling ill.
There are a multitude of other specific phobias that each have their own set of symptoms. If you believe you’re struggling with a specific phobia, we highly suggest you do some more research into it. This will help you not only identify the symptoms but also discover the proper treatment path.
While anxiety is a normal aspect of all of our lives, there are a number of ways in which it can manifest into a disorder. We hope this article provides you with some insight into the types of anxiety disorder as well as offers answers to questions you may have had.
If you do struggle with a specific type of anxiety, it’s important to find the proper treatment for that type. As we’ve discussed, each disorder comes with its own set of symptoms that require unique tactics for overcoming.
Furthermore, it as you continue to research and learn more about the type of anxiety you have, it will benefit you to understand how others have treated your specific condition.
Still have questions concerning the types of anxiety disorders?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also like to hear from you.
¹ National Health Services: Agoraphobia – Definition
² LifeStance Health: Misconceptions of Agoraphobia
³ National Health Services: Agoraphobia – Symptoms (Mental, Emotional & Physical)
⁴ National Institute of Health – Library of Medicine: Treatment of Agoraphobia with Panic Disorder
⁵ Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Understanding the Facts
⁶ Anxiety and Depression Association of America: GAD Symptoms
⁷ Anxiety and Depression Association of America: GAD Treatments
⁸ National Institute of Mental Health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Definition
⁹ MindUK: OCD Symptoms
¹⁰ International OCD Foundation: OCD Treatment – CBT Therapy Options
¹¹ National Institute of Mental Health: Panic Disorder – Definition
¹² Harvard Health Publication: Panic Disorder
¹³ National Institute of Mental Health: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – A Definition
¹⁴ National Institute of Mental Health: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Who Develops the Condition?
¹⁵ MindUK: PTSD Symptoms
¹⁶ DualDiagnosis: Common Medications for PTSD
¹⁷ Stanford Children’s : Separation Anxiety Disorder – Definition
¹⁸ MayoClinic: Separation Anxiety Disorder – Symptoms
¹⁹ HelpGuide: Easing & Treating Separation Anxiety Disorder
²⁰ National Institute of Mental Health: Social Anxiety Disorder – Definition
²¹ Sunrise House Treatment Center: Is Social Phobia Related to Agoraphobia?
²² MayoClinic: Social Anxiety Disorder – Symptoms
²³ Harvard Health Publishing: Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
²⁴ MedicalNews Today: SSRI v. SNRI: Differences / Similarities
²⁵ MedicalNews Today: Most Common Types of Specific Phobias