Four Different Types of Anxiety and How to Treat Them

July 23, 2019

A woman has a panic attack in public
Stephanie Dwilson

Anxiety is an umbrella term for a number of different conditions that millions of Americans suffer from every day. Overall, there are four different types of anxiety, each with varying levels of severity. Although it's normal to feel worried about things from time to time, anxiety becomes a problem when you can't shake it off and it starts interfering with your life. Here's a look at the different types of anxiety and when to see a professional.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) refers to feeling anxious about a variety of things in a persistent and excessive manner, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA). Your worries don't centralize around the fear of one particular object or activity but are more diffuse in nature, where you find yourself worrying about a number of things all the time. About 6.8 million U.S. adults have GAD. The cause isn't known, but it can develop gradually over time.

The symptoms of GAD, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Persistent worry that's out of proportion to the event itself.
  • Overthinking to the point where you're trying to plan for any possible worst-case scenario.
  • Seeing situations as threatening that aren't.
  • Always feeling keyed up and unable to relax.
  • You might have trouble with uncertainty, be very indecisive and have trouble concentrating.

Physical symptoms of GAD might include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nervousness
  • Easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Stomach issues

A low-level constant worry that's hard to shake can be enough to disrupt your physical and mental health. So even if it's not severe, see a doctor or counselor if you think you have GAD.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety where you have out-of-the-blue panic attacks that feel like your heart is pounding, you can't breathe or think, and you may feel dizzy, the National Institute of Mental Health shares. Some people think they're dying or having a heart attack. Attacks can be disorienting and draining. Eventually, you may start fearing the panic attack itself and stop doing normal activities like going to school, work or the grocery store. Excessive caffeine or smoking might make it worse, Mayo Clinic reports.

Physical activity like exercise, mindfulness meditation and other approaches might help, but professional help — like psychotherapy or medication — is typically recommended. Most people improve with treatment, according to MedlinePlus.

Phobia-Related Disorders

Phobia-related disorder is an umbrella term for any irrational fear of a situation, creature or object, Medical News Today shares. About 19 million people in the U.S. have a phobia of some type. There are many different types, such as claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of being alone, fear of driving a car, fear of heights and more. Some complex phobias, like agoraphobia (fear of being outside your home), might actually be a combination of specific phobias.

Some people may choose not to see a professional if the phobia doesn't disrupt their daily activities. But a phobia can grow in intensity. Treatment can include medication, counseling, exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a type of phobia that's far more severe than just being shy. It can involve being afraid of being judged and being overly self-conscious to the point where you avoid social situations altogether, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If you've been feeling this way for six months or more and it's interfering with everyday tasks, you'll want to get help.

About 15 million American adults deal with social anxiety, ADAA shares. It's important to get help because social anxiety can affect your self-esteem, your job or school performance or your ability to network or make friends. Treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or support groups.

Treatments

Some people find that cutting down on caffeine or alcohol can reduce their anxiety. Others find that exercising consistently, doing yoga, eating healthier foods and going out with friends can help. A number of self-help books, especially those that focus on cognitive behavioral therapy, are also beneficial.

But sometimes you need the guidance of a professional to navigate anxiety. Remember, seeing a medical professional for help with any of the different types of anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, one of the smartest things you can do is seek help for anxiety.

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