Recognizing And Dealing With Various Types Of Anxiety

Updated December 18, 2018

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

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Anxiety disorders are the most common of all the mental conditions, with 18.1% of the U.S. population affected. Anxiety isn't as simple as you might think, though. There are five main types of anxiety, each with its symptoms. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are very treatable. Here are the different types of anxiety, how to recognize them, and treatments available for each.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined as a mental disorder in which the sufferer experiences excessive and persistent anxiety about many aspects of their life. They may have pervasive worry about social relationships, work, financial matters, and health. Their worry is out of proportion to an actual situation or may consist of unwarranted fears about the future.

Symptoms Of GAD

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by worry and fear that affects many parts of your life. If you have three or more of these symptoms more days than not for six months or more, your doctor may diagnose generalized anxiety disorder.

  • Worrying that's out of proportion to events and situations
  • Dwelling on plans and solutions to worst-case scenarios
  • Feeling threatened in situations where no significant threat exists
  • Trouble dealing with uncertainty
  • Being indecisive
  • Inability to let go of worrying thoughts
  • Feeling restless, on edge, and unable to relax
  • Feeling your mind is blank
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling
  • Feeling nervous
  • Being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Digestive problems
  • Irritability

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Dealing With GAD

Generalized anxiety disorder is highly treatable. Treatment options include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Supportive psychotherapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Mindfulness-based therapy
  • Medications such as SSRI antidepressants
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Exercise

Panic Disorder

Symptoms Of Panic Disorder

You may have panic disorder if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Attacks of sudden, intense fear
  • Feeling out of control during the anxiety attack
  • Extreme worry about when the next panic attack will happen
  • Avoiding places where an anxiety attack happened in the past

There are different types of anxiety attacks based on the following factors:

  • Caused by a thought or by a situation
  • Expected or unexpected
  • Length of panic attack (can be minutes, hours, days or weeks)
  • How debilitating the attack is
  • How many anxiety attack symptoms are involved

The experience of having a panic attack typically feels primarily physical. The following are the most common symptoms of anxiety attacks:

  • Feeling sudden, intense fear
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Short of breath
  • Choking sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of detachment
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills or hot flushes

Dealing With Panic Disorder

When you have panic disorder, you spend a great amount of time thinking about the next panic attack. It helps to have a game plan that you can rely on to get you through an attack. You can develop such a plan with a therapist. The plan can involve changing the way you think about the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks and changing your responses to them. All this can be done in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Medications may also help. Typical meds for anxiety attacks include:

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  • SSRIs
  • SNRIs
  • Beta-blockers
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Valproate

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is rooted in the past, traumatic event or situation. The situation doesn't have to have been dangerous in reality, but the person perceived it as dangerous at the moment.

Symptoms Of PTSD

There are many symptoms of PTSD, and you must have several of them to be diagnosed with the disorder.

You will typically have symptoms directly related to the experience of the event. This happens when the disorder brings about re-experiencing symptoms, which are the hallmarks of PTSD:

  • Flashbacks
  • Bad dreams
  • Fear-provoking thoughts

If you have PTSD, you also have one or more of the following avoidance symptoms:

  • You avoid places, events, and objects that remind you of the traumatic event or situation
  • You avoid thoughts and feelings about the traumatic experience

You also have arousal and reactivity symptoms such as:

  • Feeling tense or on edge
  • Problems with sleep
  • Angry outbursts
  • Being easily startled

Thought and mood symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder include:

  • Trouble remembering key details of the traumatic experience
  • Having negative thoughts about yourself and the world at large
  • Feeling intense and unreasonable guilt or blame
  • Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed

For a diagnosis of PTSD, you would have at least one of the re-experiencing symptoms, at least one of the avoidance symptoms, at least two of the arousal and reactivity symptoms, and at least two of the thought and mood symptoms. These would continue for at least one month.

Dealing With PTSD

The best way to deal with PTSD is by getting help as soon as possible. Talk to a doctor or therapist to identify your problems and work together to create a treatment plan. The two main types of treatment are medications and psychotherapy.

Medications for PTSD include:

  • Antidepressants for worry, anger, and sadness
  • Prazosin for sleep disturbances

Therapy for PTSD can include:

  • Exposure therapy, in which you are gradually exposed to the places and situations in which the trauma happened
  • Cognitive restructuring, which involves making sense of your memories of the event
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Learning anger management techniques
  • Developing better lifestyle habits.
  • Dealing with fear, guilt, and shame
  • Learning to react differently to symptoms

Social Anxiety

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Of all the different types of anxiety disorders, people have become more aware of social anxiety disorder in recent years. It's also called social phobia because it's an irrational fear of social situations.

Symptoms Of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder typically appears early in life, with 80% of people who have it having symptoms before the age of 20. If you have social anxiety disorder, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Anxious feelings when with other people
  • Difficulty is talking to people
  • Fear of being judged
  • Worrying long before the social event
  • Feeling extremely self-conscious in front of other people
  • Fear of being humiliated or rejected
  • Fear of offending others
  • Avoiding places where other people will be
  • Blushing, trembling, or sweating
  • Feeling nauseous when you're with other people
  • Problems are making or keeping friends

Dealing With Social Anxiety

The primary treatment for social anxiety is psychotherapy, usually cognitive behavior therapy that's specifically designed for people with social anxiety. Because social anxiety is also a type of phobia, exposure therapy can be extremely helpful.

In addition to therapy, some doctors prescribe medications to help with social anxiety. The most commonly used meds for this are antidepressants. Medications are typically used to help the person manage their symptoms until they can overcome their fear of social situations.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety disorder is marked by intense anxiety when away from home or someone you're strongly attached to. Infants and toddlers go through stages of separation anxiety as a normal part of development. However, when older children, teenagers, and adults have persistent separation anxiety, it's a mental disorder that can cause problems with daily functioning.

Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Distress about being away from home or loved ones before or during the absence
  • Constant worry about losing someone you love through illness or disaster
  • Constant worry that something will happen to separate you from loved ones
  • Avoiding the fear by refusing to leave home
  • Not wanting to be home alone
  • Refusing to sleep away from home unless loved ones are present
  • Nightmares about being separated from loved ones
  • Headaches or stomachaches when you expect to be away from loved ones
  • Panic attacks before or during separation

Dealing With Separation Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of therapy for anxiety disorders in general. It's the first line of treatment for separation anxiety. In CBT, you can learn to face and manage your fears about being separated from loved ones. If you have a child with separation anxiety, CBT can help you develop strategies for helping your child. If your separation anxiety is severe, a doctor might prescribe SSRI medications. In fact, SSRIs are the most used types of anxiety medication for many of the disorders.

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What To Do Next

If you feel you're suffering from any of these types of anxiety disorders, the next thing you need to do is to get help from a qualified professional. Your primary doctor or a psychiatrist may be able to help you with medications to help with your anxiety.

Therapy can help you make dramatic changes in the way you think about and deal with your anxiety symptoms. You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com for online therapy that fits your schedule.

The first step in dealing with feelings of fear and worry is to learn to recognize the symptoms of the different types of anxiety. If you realize your anxiety is disrupting your life, you can begin therapy to learn how to understand your disorder better and deal with it. Everyone feels fear at some time or another. With the right help, you can put intense, persistent anxiety in the past.


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