Anxiety disorders: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

published on 04 April 2022

We all feel a little anxious sometimes. For many people, though, that feeling can take on large and permanent dimensions which cause discomfort and dysfunction in everyday life and indicate the development of an anxiety disorder. Do you struggle with some type of anxiety? If so, the first step to overcoming these conditions is to recognize them. Read on to learn how!

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There is no doubt that anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health issues globally. Anxiety disorders can have a devastating impact on an individual’s life, interfering with daily activities negatively affecting self-confidence and leading to a decrease in quality of life. They can affect anyone, from teens to adults. Whether it’s an acute problem or has been going on for a long time, there are many different causes of anxiety and many ways they can manifest. There are even some disorders that overlap with other conditions.

Summary of contents

  1. The difference between anxiety and stress
  2. What are the eight major types of Anxiety Disorders?
  3. Other Anxiety disorders?
  4. Causes of Anxiety disorders
  5. Treatment
  6. In conclusion

The difference between anxiety and stress

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The terms stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably when they are different. You need to know the difference between stress and anxiety to describe what you are experiencing to your therapist and therefore receive the appropriate treatment. 

Stress and anxiety are emotional reactions, but an external trigger causes stress. The complex state of emergency that the body enters when its' normal function (homeostasis) is threatened by internal (e.g., disease) or external stressors.

The cause may be something short-term such as an appointment at work or a quarrel with a loved one, or it may be more long-term, such as lack of work, chronic health issues, etc. Stress is a normal part of life that everyone deals with from time to time. Stress symptoms can be irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle aches, constipation problems, and difficulty sleeping.  

On the other hand, anxiety is defined as persistent and excessive anxiety that does not subside even when the cause of the stress is absent. Similar symptoms govern anxiety to stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle aches, and irritability.

What are the eight major types of Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders can range from mild to severe. Each one is different in terms of its physical symptoms and psychological traits. The best way to deal with anxiety is to start by becoming aware of it, learning about it, and taking control of it instead of suppressing it. The following presentation of each disorder will contribute to this way.

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1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder(GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder, abbreviated GAD, is a very common mental health condition that involves long-lasting feelings of worry about everyday things that you can’t control. A specific event or object does not cause it, but by the way, your thoughts and fears constantly circle over the same things. The person has difficulty or is unable to control their stress and anxiety most days, over at least six months.

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GAD's symptoms include:

  • persistent anxiety or stress in certain areas that are not commensurate with the severity of the events
  • excessive thinking about plans and solutions for all the possible outcomes of the worst possible outcome
  • perception of situations and events as threatening, even when they are not
  • difficulty managing uncertainty
  • indecision and fear of getting it wrong
  • inability to relax, feeling anxious and constantly feeling tense
  • difficulty concentrating or mind going blank

    Physical signs include the following:
  • fatigue
  • difficulty in sleeping or insomnia
  • muscle tension or muscle aches trembling
  • feeling of convulsions
  • nervousness or a sense of dread, sweating, nausea
  • diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • irritability

Some people with a generalized anxiety disorder may recognize that their worries are excessive and beyond reality, while others may think that all their worries are likely to occur. In either case, the anxious thoughts are impossible to stop and are extremely disturbing. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder can significantly affect a person's personal, family, and work life. These concerns are often related to responsibilities, financial, or health - their own or those of their loved ones.

2. Panic Disorder

This disorder is characterized by repeated episodes of intense terror and fear, including the feeling that something awful is about to happen. Patients often report feelings of restlessness or being “on edge” before experiencing panic attacks.

These attacks usually last less than ten minutes. Symptoms may begin gradually or suddenly. Panic attacks may also be triggered by specific situations, such as going into an enclosed space, encountering or anticipating a stressful situation, or having an upsetting thought. The symptoms of panic attacks can be so intense that they interfere with the patient’s ability to carry out everyday activities, even when there is no actual danger.

During a panic attack, four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:

  • rapid heartbeat or sensation of the heartbeat
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • breathing difficulty or feeling of choking
  • feeling of drowning
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal pain
  • dizziness, instability, fainting, or loss of consciousness
  • chills or hot flashes
  • numbness or tingling
  • depersonalization
  • fear of losing control or going crazy
  • fear of imminent death

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People with panic disorder often worry that a panic attack may occur in a particular place or situation. They are constantly thinking about the next episode. Thus, they try to avoid places and situations in the future where they feel they might lose control over themselves again. In this way, the individual's life is significantly limited, while their interpersonal relationships are probably affected negatively. The person who avoids is locked in the house; then agoraphobia emerges, which accompanies the panic attack at a rate of 50%.

A person can experience panic attacks without suffering from the disorder itself. We can talk about panic disorder when continuous panic attacks (at least 4 in 4 weeks) occur. In addition, panic attacks are associated with other mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder.

A panic attack differs from an anxiety attack in that it starts all of a sudden and surprises the person who suffers from it. On the other hand, anxiety is being slowly built up; anxiety attacks are somehow happening in the back of our minds during daily activities. Additionally, panic attacks have a shorter duration but feel more threatening and intense. It sometimes coexists with a sense of impending death or madness. Anxiety attacks vary, as they can be mild, moderate, or high in intensity and can last for much longer.

3. Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD)

The definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can sound like: ''a chronic disorder involving recurrent thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviors''. OCD is a mental health condition that involves persistent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that the person can’t control.

People with OCD are driven by a relentless need to perform a particular ritual—usually a compulsive action—to alleviate the anxiety that comes from obsessive thinking. The rituals generally involve something that the person feels they must do to feel safe. Rituals can include, for example, counting, checking, and reassurance-seeking. The individual must complete the task or ritual to feel in control of him or herself.

Ιn particular, obsessions can look like this:

  • fear of infection or fear of germs (avoiding handshake or objects touched by other people before)
  • unwanted, forbidden, or taboo thoughts about gender, religion, and physical integrity
  • aggressive thoughts towards others or oneself
  • having to keep the objects in a symmetrical or "perfect" arrangement
  • thoughts of self-harm or causing injury to someone else
  • thoughts on euphemisms or inappropriate behavior
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The most usual compulsions include:

  • excessive cleanliness and handwashing
  • positioning and arranging objects in a specific, precise way
  • when it repeatedly checks things, such as repeatedly checking whether a door is locked or whether the oven/water heater is out of order
  • compulsive counting

Each of us has checked twice or even three times if we've left the water heater open. This does not diagnose us with OCD. In the case of this disorder, the person:

- Can not control their thoughts or behaviors, even when they recognize that they are excessive.

- Spend at least 1 hour a day immersed in these thoughts/behaviors.

- They don't get pleasure when they perform these behaviors or rituals but may feel brief relief from the anxiety caused by the thoughts to perform them.

- They have significant problems in their daily life because of these thoughts or behaviors.

Obsessions and compulsions can also be a sign of a personality disorder. See more about it in the following articleAn Introduction to Personality Disorders; Fighting Stigma

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe mental health condition that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event. When a person experiences a shocking and life-threatening event that creates a fear of re-experiencing the event, they often develop anxiety, depression, and guilt. This event can be physical and emotional trauma, for example, the death of a loved one, assault or threat with a weapon, a severe injury, rape, natural disaster, etc.

PTSD is sometimes called “survivor’s syndrome” because the disorder affects people who have been through a traumatic event and are left with lingering feelings of terror and helplessness.

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Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • avoidance of specific areas, spectacles, situations, and sounds that remind of the event
  • anxiety, depression, emotional numbness or guilt
  • disturbing thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • anger, irritability, and overstimulation
  • aggressive, reckless behavior, including self-harm
  • insomnia
  • loss of interest in activities he once considered enjoyable
  • difficulty remembering details of the painful incident
  • change in habits or behavior after the injury

People who have had a traumatic experience are often afraid that they will never live normally. It is a condition in which a person cannot think and feel generally because of a past event. There are many problems that they have to deal with when they try to go on with their lives. They may have to change jobs and even their residence. These people often feel helpless and hopeless. They find it hard to trust others and even to do everyday things.

People in certain social identity groups are more likely to develop, PTSD-including women-who is about twice as likely as men to develop this disorder. A large percentage of women are being publicly harassed by strangers, including offensive or sexual comments, inappropriate verbal gestures or whistles, and obscene exposure; frequent such behaviors can lead many women to feel insecure in public and develop related traumas.

5. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder that causes severe discomfort, fear, and distress when engaging in or experiencing situations where others are present, and judgment is possible. Individuals with a social anxiety disorder may worry about being judged, ridiculed, embarrassed, or humiliated in social situations. They may also fear becoming the center of attention and saying or doing something embarrassing. Such social situations can be public speaking, group activities, and meeting new people.

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Specifically, the symptoms are:

  • the person is almost always stressed or scared in various social situations
  • they constantly avoid the social circumstances that they fear or endure with intense fear
  • the fear and anxiety they experience is disproportionate to the actual "threat" that can arise from the social situation
  • fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent and lasts for six months or more
  • due to social stress, intense discomfort or dysfunction is caused in the social, professional, or other vital areas of ​​a person's life.

Some beliefs of people with a social anxiety disorder might be like ''Others observe my movements and behavior in detail'' or ''If I do this, everyone will make fun of me''. These beliefs might be mistaken with shyness, but social anxiety is more extensive; there are a greater stress intensity than shyness in social anxiety—more severe physical symptoms (e.g., increased blood pressure, tendency to vomit, etc.). The most common coping strategy is "avoidance." Unlike shyness, people with social anxiety may be confident in their personal moments but not under certain circumstances in which they feel judged (e.g., speaking to the world).

5. Specific Phobias

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A specific phobia refers to the apparent fear or anxiety about a particular object or situation, which persists and lasts for six months. Factors that often trigger specific phobias include insects and other animals or elements of the environment such as water, heights, storms. Other stimuli that cause persistent phobic reactions may consist of blood, injections, conditions such as airplanes, tunnels, or physical reactions such as drowning or vomiting. Phobia is an irrational and persistent fear of a situation that does not threaten us directly.

Organic symptoms

  • tachycardia
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • rapid breathing
  • muscle contractions
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • feeling of panic

People having a specific phobia do distorted and scary thoughts that contain the element of threat. Consequently, they avoid the situation without considering whether what they fear is objectively dangerous. They either try to get away from the phobic situation immediately or freeze. They usually avoid situations where they are about to encounter dangerous objects.

6. Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is characterized by an overwhelming fear of open and public spaces; it is the fear of being outside of a familiar environment. People with agoraphobia feel like they are at a disadvantage when handling unexpected events. They may even find themselves thinking about the possibility of having a panic attack if they try to venture out of their home.

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  • fast heart rate
  • excessive sweating
  • breathing difficulty
  • trembling, numbness, or tingling
  • pain or "plaque" in the chest
  • dizziness
  • sudden flush or chills
  • stomach upset or diarrhea
  • feeling of losing control
  • extreme fear of death
  • fear of being alone in any situation
  • fear of being in crowded places
  • fear of losing control in public
  • fear of being in places where it can be difficult to leave, such as an elevator or train
  • unable to leave the house or be able to do so, only if someone else accompanies him

Agoraphobia can be pretty reminiscent of social anxiety because both are associated with the "outside." The truth is agoraphobia refers to social places, while social anxiety has to do with social situations. What you are afraid of in agoraphobia is whether you experience panic attacks and lose control in specific contexts. At the same time, in social anxiety, the central thought is the fear of being judged.

7. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common condition that occurs when a person becomes anxious at the thought of being separated from someone or something they love. While separation anxiety can affect any age group, it's much more common in childhood. Except for fear of being away from their friends and family, people also can fear being away from their possessions and belongings, including their toys.

Additionally, people can develop separation anxiety because of a loss of a loved one, such as a parent, sibling, grandparent, or pet. Some kids develop separation anxiety because of moving to a new place or school; they are afraid their friends and teachers won't be there anymore.

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Symptoms include panic attacks (such as nausea, vomiting, or difficulty breathing) or panic attacks before a parent leaves or goes to school, for example. Headaches and stomach aches may be there when it comes to physical symptoms. Sleeping difficulties and repeated nightmares related to separation can also be expected for people with separation anxiety. There is also a feeling of unexplained anxiety about being lost or abducted. There is a possibility of irrational ideas about the danger the person experiences when away from the person close to him.

It is normal to get anxiety when we are separating from the important things to us, but it can affect our lives if we allow it to continue. Separation anxiety can lead to many problems, such as school failure, depression, and low self-esteem.

8. Selective mutism

Last but not least, selective mutism is also considered a disorder among the rest of anxiety disorders. Selective mutism disorder is a term used for phobia in which a person who can speak feels unable to speak in specific situations. Selective mutism is most often associated with school-aged children and adolescents. It greatly co-exists with social anxiety disorder, and sometimes it is confused with an autism spectrum disorder.

The following symptoms describe in detail the extent to which the particular disorder may occur:

  • persistent difficulty or inability to speak and respond in specific environments, mainly observed in the school environment
  • minimal or incomplete eye contact in interaction with another person
  • little talk or whispering to people they trust or to children their age
  • either engagement in non-verbal activities or isolation; remain expressionless, numb, or standing frozen in solitude (e.g., in the playground) out of shyness and fear
  • some children may use non-verbal communication to address speech by pointing or winking
  •  nocturnal or non-urination, tics, nail-biting, finger sucking, trembling, nausea, abdominal pain, etc.

Children with selective mutism may present a completely different image at home (be talkative, funny, etc.) than they present at school. Due to the inability to manage situations that cause anxiety and phobias, children may adopt unintentional behaviors, such as rudeness and manipulation.

Other Anxiety Disorders?

What are unspecified and other specified anxiety disorders?

This category includes people with anxiety symptoms, but they are not enough to diagnose a specific one. 

What about medical condition anxiety disorder?

This category includes people with anxiety symptoms caused by a physical health problem. 

What about medication anxiety disorder?

This category includes people whose anxiety symptoms are related to a specific substance (the presence or absence).

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Treatment options for these disorders depend on the type of disorder, how severe the symptoms are, and the patient's age.Psychotherapy


Getting treatment from mental health professionals is necessary for somebody to find the root of their mental health issues and reduce/eliminate the symptoms to live a quality life they enjoy. Listed below are the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders:

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  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that is more effective than others in treating anxiety disorders. CBT is based on the assumption that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between our thoughts and feelings. It focuses on how we think about and interpret situations and how these interpretations affect our emotions. Patients are helped to rewire their thoughts, behaviors, and reactions to anxiety-provoking situations. 

CBT works by educating the individual to change dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. The goal is to evaluate negative thoughts about oneself, the world, and others and replace them with more realistic ones. At the same time, the behavior is evaluated based on its effectiveness in specific conditions, and the behaviors that need to be replaced with more functional reactions are identified.

  • Exposure Therapy

When people feel anxious because of fear, a phobia, or a traumatic memory, they often avoid anything that reminds them of them. This avoidance provides temporary relief, but it maintains the fear and the pattern of avoidance. In some cases, avoidance can make things worse and give more power to what we fear.

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Exposure therapy is used mainly to treat phobias and other fears. It can refer to repeated and that the individual does not like. It helps to reduce the anxiety symptoms and increase tolerance for the feared object. It uses the principle of desensitization. This involves exposing patients to their fear in a controlled manner.

Imagine this as climbing a ladder. It seems impossible to imagine yourself doing such a thing when you start treatment. However, as we climb the stairs, the top begins to seem more and more accessible. Little by little, step by step, being exposed to your fear hierarchically will help you overcome your anxiety.

  • Medications

Anxiolytic medications affect the brain by reducing stress levels. Therefore, they can help reduce stress, anxiety, fear, and panic attacks. Anxiety medication does not cure anxiety disorders, but it can help manage symptoms. There are many different anxiolytic medications available. Τhe best anxiolytic drug for you depends on many factors, including the type of anxiety disorder you have, your age, if you have other health problems or are taking other medications.

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a brain chemical linked to the sense of well-being, are also often used to treat anxiety.

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Psychiatrists are the specialists who can prescribe you medication to treat a particular anxiety disorder. The effect of the medicines is monitored; a specific drug may change from one point to the next and the dosage, depending on if the disorder is getting better or worse and the side effects.

  • Non-Pharmaceutical Treatments

Improving your overall wellbeing and focusing on a healthy lifestyle is essential; it can reinforce your efforts to treat anxiety disorders.  A healthy lifestyle can include a variety of things. Some of them are a balanced diet including nutritious meals with vitamins, sleeping well, reducing and avoiding addictions(e.g., caffeine). Regular exercise sleeping well are also essential routines you should include in your everyday life.

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Since the belief that the mind is connected to the body, it is good to keep in mind that treating your body well will positively affect your mental health. Practicing relaxation and mindfulness methods, such as meditation, will help you learn how to be present. You will get to know the right way to breathe and control the body's physiology.

In conclusion

Sometimes, it is not clear if anxiety symptoms are due to a mental health problem or simply due to everyday stressors in life. Considering the above-given information, it will be easier for you to consider whether to consult a mental health specialist.

Don't forget to start your day with a deep breath!

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