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What are the Different Types of Anxiety?

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Life comes with many stressors and each person will react differently to these. In fact, stress, in general, is a highly individualized experience and the same stressors can affect two people in two different ways. If you constantly have feelings of tension and overwhelm, what you’re experiencing may be more than just situational. You could have an anxiety disorder. There are many of these, and you shouldn’t try to diagnose yourself. However, having a general understanding of what each entail could help you determine whether its time to seek help. Here are a few of the most common anxiety disorders and the symptoms attached to each so you can plan for next steps:


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders. GAD is generally diagnosed when it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of clinical anxiety or when symptoms show up in many different areas of your life. It can be difficult to manage your symptoms, which occur most days out of the week for six months or more. You may experience excessive worrying/overthinking about the future (or other uncontrollable situations) and be unable to figure out which specific circumstances that are causing this distress. If a therapist tells you that you may be suffering from GAD, you are certainly not alone.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD normally presents itself with repetitive actions (called rituals) and obsessional thinking. There is an impulsive-compulsive component to these thoughts and behaviors. People with OCD often find themselves obsessing over things like germs, checking to see if the door is locked before they leave home, needing to follow a rigid routine, etc. Some people with OCD may also experience paralyzing frustration if a certain pattern/order/ritual is disrupted. These things in and of themselves don’t necessarily mean an individual has OCD. However, recognizing that you’re experiencing these may help you determine whether to seek therapy. Your therapist will take a look at the big picture, asking you relevant questions and listening to what you’re experiencing in order to determine whether OCD is present.


Social Anxiety Disorder

If socializing with people, family or friends, makes you feel on edge or nervous you may have social anxiety. This disorder makes socialization difficult because you worry about your words or actions too much, even when around people who have known you your whole life. You may fear being embarrassed, not knowing what to talk about, or people judging you. You may also feel as if everyone is watching you whenever you’re in a crowd of people. It can be difficult to go into crowded places, in general, such as shopping malls, movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, etc. If your anxiety is making it seemingly impossible to go into public, consider reaching out for professional help.


Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety normally occurs in younger kids but can also be present in adults. This type of anxiety causes extreme fear about something happening to the people they care about most when they are not with them. Children often experience these feelings when their parents leave because the person they view as their protector is no longer within their sight. If you have difficulty separating from those you love, even when the individual or yourself is running a quick errand, it may be time to get help.


Anxiety can also show up as clinically diagnosable phobias or fears. One of the most common is agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving home. Individuals who have this mental health condition may believe it’s impossible to simply get their mail at the end of the driveway. They feel paralyzed by thoughts about venturing outside of their safe space. They may be plagued by excessive “what ifs” that could occur if they venture outside.


Sometimes, when a person is experiencing a phobia, a therapist will suggest exposure therapy to ease symptoms. This doesn’t mean that the therapist will suggest that a person with agoraphobia take a road trip far away from home, but rather, they may work with this individual to take “baby steps” outside of their comfort zone – i.e., getting the mail, venturing into the backyard, or simply sitting outside on the front porch. Little by little, the obsessions behind the phobia can lift and the person can be freed from the mental prison that is disallowing them to life an effective life.


Anxiety disorders are extremely common. If you have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are disabling you from completing your day-to-day responsibilities, it is best to reach out and get help from a professional. These disorders can be extremely difficult to manage without the right tools, but it is possible to break free with therapeutic coping mechanisms that can help you reframe negative thoughts, eliminate cognitive distortions, improve self-image and make other positive changes to your life. Psychodynamic therapists can also help you get to the root cause(s) of your anxiety so you can better understand why these symptoms are there and how to manage them. Sometimes understanding the core conflict can help you break unhealthy patterns once and for all.

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