Different types of anxiety disorders come in many forms. What they have in common is the generalization that fear and worry become overwhelming drivers in a person’s mind. Anxiety disorders differentiate themselves from normal worries and rational concerns by causing debilitating symptoms, occurring seemingly at random, and sometimes being triggered by unwanted and intrusive thoughts.
It’s normal to worry about your safety after a break in. It’s normal to express fear and anxious thoughts after a harrowing episode. But when these thoughts become arresting irrespective of the circumstances around you, or if they continuously impact your quality of life, they may be signs of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in the world. They affect an estimated 40 million Americans, and anywhere from 2.4 to 18 percent of the population in other places around the globe. And for many age groups, anxiety conditions have been on a climb.
Anxiety conditions take a long time to overcome, even with the help of consistent therapy and medication. In some cases, anxiety disorders can temporarily change the way the brain responds to stress and distressing situations. Understanding how anxiety develops and what it looks like can help you better recognize these conditions in yourself and others, and get help as soon as possible.
Below are some of the most common types of anxiety disorders, and their distinguishing characteristics.
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Like major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of condition in its group. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by:
- Worrying excessively about everyday occurrences
- Knowing that you’re worrying excessively
- Feeling restless and unfocused all the time
- Feeling fatigued and struggling with headaches as a result of the stress
- Frequently twitching or trembling
- Easily startled
- Restlessness and insomnia
- And more.
Generalized anxiety disorder does not embody very specific fears, such as a constant recurring fear of one catastrophe, or a fear of being embarrassing in public. Instead, it’s like a blanket of excess worry over nearly everything.
2. Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is separate from a social phobia like agoraphobia and is more commonly understood as a series of anxiety-related symptoms triggered by, and surrounding the thought of social interactions, social situations, and specific relationship events.
A person with a social anxiety disorder diagnosis will constantly fear that they are being scrutinized or judged by others, will perceive and misconstrue any vague cue as proof that they are being criticized in secret, and will be constantly worried about being perceived as humiliating or silly. Other signs of social anxiety disorder include:
- Frequently avoiding or distancing oneself from social gatherings
- Having performance-related anxiety
- Being anxious about meeting new people
3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is listed as its own type of condition in the newest DSM but shares a lot of similarities with other anxiety disorders. It is a unique condition where intrusive thoughts and the strange coping mechanisms they inspire play a central role.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder usually experience two sets of symptoms: the obsessive part, which is an unwanted or intrusive thought, fantasy, or worry which sparks discomfort and anxiety, and the compulsive part, which involves certain thoughts, rituals, or actions that are perceived as an essential coping mechanism, yet which end up renewing the destructive cycle in the long term.
Common signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
- Obsessions like:
- Unwanted thoughts
- Intrusive taboo thoughts, particularly around sex, self-harm, violence, or religion/sin
- Thoughts of aggression
- Fear or anxiety of germs or insects, and thoughts of contamination
- Fear of bodily fluids
- Compulsions like:
- Excessive cleaning and grooming
- Constant handwashing or wiping
- Needing to order things very precisely, or in exact positions
- Repeatedly checking or doing a task repeatedly, such as locking and unlocking a door multiple times, or flipping a switch a specific number of times
- Compulsive counting
4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition characterized by symptoms of reexperiencing, avoidance, cognitive symptoms, and hyperreactivity following a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD can be quite varied, from selective amnesia and changes in mood and personality, to severe nightmares and constant recurring negative thoughts.
PTSD also affects the way the brain handles stress and distress, triggering fight-or-flight reactions much more easily, and causing a form of hypervigilance and excessive reactivity.
Phobias are also a type of anxiety disorder, characterized by immense and irrational fear. What sets a phobia aside from a normal fear is that it can be consuming and all-encompassing, to the point where a picture or mention of a person’s phobia can trigger panic, and they may have sudden intrusive thoughts about their phobia that make them uncomfortable or anxious even when no danger or triggers are present.
Phobias can range from fears that most people share, such as a fear of heights or spiders, to severe fears over something unexpected, such as trees, dentists, or water. Most phobias can be categorized as either a fear of natural occurrences, animals, medical treatment/mutilation, or certain situations. Common examples of phobias include:
- Claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces)
- Glossophobia (fear of public speaking)
- Aerophobia (fear of flying)
- Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
- Equinophobia (fear of horses)
- Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
- Batrachophobia (fear of lizards)
- Dendrophobia (fear of trees)
- Hydrophobia (fear of water)
- Astraphobia (fear of thunder)
- Androphobia (fear of men)
- Zoophobia (fear of animals)
- Trypanophobia (fear of needles)
- Technophobia (fear of technology)
- Hemophobia (fear of blood)
A far more comprehensive list of phobias can be found online. If you have an irrational fear of something that isn’t listed, note that this can still be a phobia – phobias can develop in response to nearly anything, and it would be impossible to list every single type of phobia in existence.
Other Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
Aside from the most common anxiety conditions, other examples of different types of anxiety disorders include separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and selective mutism, among others. If you suspect an anxiety disorder in yourself or someone close to you, it’s important to remember that the general qualifier is a form of worry or incessant fear that is often paralyzing, and affects you at home, at work, and throughout your general life.
While it’s normal to worry, and even normal to fear certain things, we shouldn’t live our lives in fear. Long-term fear can mess with the brain and change our perspective and thinking for the worse. Overcoming that fear through professional help can drastically improve your quality of life, and help you lead a more fulfilling life.