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The Common Types of Anxiety Disorders That Can Affect People

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic disease wherein patients often feel afraid and frequently worry about aspects of life such as health, money, family, work or school
  • Factors such as negative experiences (bullying, rejection or humiliation), personality traits (being shy or timid), new social or work demands, or underlying condition/s that can draw attention may trigger social anxiety disorder

The term "anxiety" does not refer to one type of condition alone. It actually covers a variety of conditions that can affect people in different ways. Here are the most common types of anxiety disorders.1

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Free Floating Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or free floating anxiety2 is a chronic disease wherein patients often feel afraid and worry about aspects of life such as health, money, family, work or school.3,4 While it is normal to be concerned about certain facets of life, people with GAD find it difficult to control their worries over a certain issue.

People with GAD experience fear that is typically unrealistic or out of proportion with what is to be expected during the situation.5 They also expect instances of failure or disaster to happen, leading to disruptions in their daily functions at work or school, and in social events and relationships.6

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, GAD affects at least 6.8 million adults yearly, equivalent to 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, with women twice as likely to become diagnosed.7 Typical symptoms include:8

Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge

Headaches, stomachaches, muscle pain or unexplained pain

Difficulty concentrating


Being easily surprised or startled

Excessive worrying that is difficult to control

Difficulty falling asleep or unsatisfying sleep

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Just like GAD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic9 condition wherein the patient has obsessions or compulsions that may be repetitive or distressing. Here's how you can differentiate obsessions from compulsions:10

Obsessions — These are recurrent thoughts or ideas that range from mundane worries (such as an intense aversion to germs or contamination) to frightening fantasies (like behaving violently toward themselves or a loved one).

Compulsions — These refer to repetitive and obsessive routines, like frequently checking if doors have been locked, inspecting if items have been arranged orderly, or washing hands or cleaning surroundings.11

Patients with OCD may acknowledge that their behaviors are unreasonable or irrational, but ultimately cannot stop these feelings.12 While there is no definite cause linked to OCD, research has shown that there may be a neurological connection. As Medical News Today reports, brain images have revealed that the brains of people with OCD function differently.13

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder refers to anxiety disorder wherein a patient experiences panic attacks: short and sudden "attacks" that increases feelings of fear, terror or worry.14 People who experienced panic attacks have likened it to experiencing a heart attack (because of a racing heartbeat), going insane15 or dying.16 The patient also experiences trembling, confusion, dizziness, nausea and breathing difficulties.17

Panic attacks can occur anywhere, anytime and often without any warning.18 They tend to arise abruptly and last for 10 to 20 minutes, although they can continue for at least an hour or more.19 In some instances, symptoms of panic disorders often develop after a patient encounters frightening events or prolonged stress.20

The condition often develops during the stages of early adulthood, with women twice as likely to have a panic attack compared to men.21 Initial panic disorder symptoms often manifest before people are 25 years old, but they usually appear once people reach their mid-30s.22 Given the potentially devastating nature of panic attacks, some patients suffer these "consequences" all while hoping to prevent another attack:23

Work or school problems

Aversion to social situations

Increased risk for developing suicidal thoughts or committing suicide

Financial issues

Increased risk for drug or substance abuse

Some patients may develop agoraphobia, or the avoidance of situations or places where they previously had a panic attack or when they think that "alleviating" a panic attack will be extremely challenging. People who have agoraphobia refrain from going to public areas like shopping malls, public transportation or sports arenas.24

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When you or someone you know shows an unexplained, uncontrollable or irrational fear or aversion to a certain object or situation, this may be a sign of a phobia. Certain situations, animals or everyday objects are common stimuli for phobias.25 Should a person be exposed to a source of fear, he or she could experience a panic attack characterized by the following symptoms:26,27

Rapid heartbeat or tachycardia

Shortness of breath


Dry mouth

Upset stomach


Dizziness or lightheadedness


Chest pain or tightness

Choking sensation

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

As the name implies, people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) face suffering from past incidents like:28,29

Military combat

Rape or sexual assault

Hostage or kidnapping situations

Natural disasters

Witnessing violent deaths

Serious accidents or airplane crash

Distressing physical threats

Experiencing serious animal attacks

Childhood neglect or abuse

In order to avoid remembering such events, which may manifest as flashbacks, people with PTSD try to change their behaviors to avoid recounting these incidents again.30 There are many symptoms for PTSD, such as:31


Scary thoughts

Sweating and shaking

Declining to discuss life events

Avoiding things that trigger memories of the event

Feelings of detachment and estrangement from others

Feelings of emotional and mental numbness

Decreased interest in life activities

Inability to remember certain parts of the event

Focus or concentration difficulties


Fight-or-flight syndrome



The ADAA notes that there are 7.7 million Americans aged 18 and above who have PTSD.32 Women are twice as likely to have PTSD compared to men.33

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder happens when a patient's anxiety rises due to separation from a person or place that makes them feel secure or safe. Certain instances of separation may cause a person to panic, and if the response is excessive or inappropriate, this is considered a disorder.34

This anxiety disorder usually occurs in children, with the first few symptoms appearing during the third or fourth grade, after school breaks due to holidays, or diagnosis of illness.35 Some symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include:36

Refusal to sleep alone

Repeated nightmares that have a theme of separation

Extreme distress when separation from home or family happens or is anticipated

Excessive worry about the safety of a family member

Excessive worry about getting separated from a family member

Refusal to go to school

Fearfulness and reluctance when left alone

Stomachaches, headaches or other physical complains

Muscle aches or tension

Excessive "clinginess" even when at home

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a type of social phobia wherein a patient fears that they may face negative judgment from other people or humiliate themselves in public. People with social anxiety disorder may often exhibit stage fright or a fear of intimacy,37 and may avoid social situations like:38

Using a public restroom

Eating in front of others


Going to parties or social gatherings

Going to work

Entering a room where people have already seated

Returning items to a store

Initiating conversations

Factors such as unpleasant experiences (bullying, rejection or humiliation), personality traits (being shy or timid), new social or work demands, or underlying attention-grabbing conditions may trigger this disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have social anxiety disorder show these two types of symptoms:39

Emotional and Behavioral Physical

Extreme fear of communicating with strangers

Worry that others will notice or may sense you're anxious

Fear of symptoms that may signal embarrassment, such as blushing, sweating, trembling or a shaking voice

Avoidance of doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment

Moving away from situations wherein the patient might become the center of attention

Anxiety because of a feared activity or event

Spending time after a social situation reflecting back on conversations and nitpicking "mistakes" in interactions

Anticipating the worst possible consequences from a negative event during a social situation

Fast heartbeat

Upset stomach or nausea

Breathing difficulties

Dizziness or lightheadedness


Muscle tension

Take note that some of these indicators may be different over time, and maybe even worsen should a patient encounter higher amounts of stressors or triggers.40

Minor Types of Anxiety Disorders

You or someone you know might also be affected with these minor anxiety disorders. While they are not as prevalent compared to the aforementioned types, these conditions could still be devastating, so it's vital that they are addressed quickly:

Relationship anxiety41

Sleep anxiety42

Existential anxiety43

Morning anxiety44

Driving anxiety45

Public speaking anxiety46

Hangover anxiety or anxiety after drinking47

Castration anxiety48


Anxiety: Introduction

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety Versus Panic Attacks

Anxiety in Children

Anxiety During Pregnancy

Panic Attacks and Anxiety

Anxiety Causes

Anxiety Types

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety Prevention

Anxiety Diet

Anxiety Support Groups

Anxiety FAQ


Anxiety Causes


Anxiety Symptoms

+ Sources and References
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