But when it becomes problematic, experts usually identify 8 major types of anxiety, each with its own specifics.
You might be thinking, OMG, eight types of anxiety; eight ways in which anxiety can screw up my life!!
But the fact that there are eight major types of anxiety isn’t a bad thing. For us clinicians, it means eight ways to understand anxiety and develop strategies to specifically target each form of anxiety.
And this is excellent news for those who are struggling with anxiety because the mere act of gaining a profound understanding of what you’re going through symbolizes your first step toward an anxiety-free life.
Knowing you’re dealing with anxiety isn’t enough; everybody’s dealing with anxiety at times. Knowing you’re dealing with social anxiety, for example, gives you a whole new perspective and opens the door to specific actions you can take to prevent anxiety from ruining your life.
What is Anxiety Anyway?
Let’s take a moment to talk about anxiety.
More specifically, the anxiety we experience during a job interview where we strive to make a clean impression. Or when we ask our boss for a raise, and we don’t know how he/she will react.
The anxiety that makes us blush when a cute girl/boy smiles at us or feel restlessness before a public presentation.
This represents the healthy form of anxiety.
The one that gets us ‘fired up’ and ready to face a potentially challenging situation.
The one that each of us has experienced and will regularly experience, throughout our entire life.
But there are also several types of unhealthy anxiety.
For instance, the anxiety that stops you from going to a party or meeting someone new.
The anxiety that prevents you from going after the job you want and living the life you always dreamed of.
The anxiety resulting from dysfunctional parenting styles, unresolved trauma, or years of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.
But although anxiety comes in many ‘shapes and sizes,’ there are plenty of ways to diagnose and manage each type.
Let’s get to know what we might be dealing with. And to gain an even clearer perspective, I found some interesting stats from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Although the numbers were pulled from U.S. populations, they should give you a better sense of how frequent each type of anxiety can occur.
The 8 Major Types of Anxiety
#1 Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common forms of anxiety, affecting nearly 3.1% of the U.S. population.
As the name suggests, this type of anxiety can occur from numerous causes and in all sorts of situations. In other words, you can’t really put your finger on a specific set of triggers.
The most accurate description of GAD is a general sense of restlessness and worry that prevents you from going about your daily business.
Unfortunately, only half of those affected by generalized anxiety receive proper treatment, and that could lead to severe consequences since depression often accompanies GAD.
#2 Specific phobias
The most popular form of anxiety is represented by specific phobias, affecting 8.7% of all U.S. individuals.
From germs, dogs, and spiders, to heights, elevators, and sharp objects, there are thousands of triggers/situations we might be scared of.
In fact, scared, might not be the right words here.
Those of us dealing with a specific form of phobia are absolutely terrified of the phobic object/situation. We avoid it to the point where we begin to build our lives around this problem.
And as you can imagine, being constantly concerned with avoiding a specific situation/object that you think you think scares the sh*t out of you can be exhausting.
For example, imagine being terrified of heights. You might have a hard time finding an apartment to live in because it needs to be located on lower levels. Or, you might refuse a job simply because you’ll have to work in a tall office building.
While some phobias are easily explainable (e.g., insects, sharp objects, heights), there are cases when it’s hard to pinpoint an exact cause. In fact, there are even culture-specific phobias that only a specific population deal with.
#3 Panic disorder
Roughly 6 million U.S. adults are affected by panic disorder (PD). That’s 2.7% of the entire U.S. population.
People often find it difficult to distinguish between panic disorder and panic attacks. In fact, even clinicians can sometimes misdiagnose this condition.
While an intense and persistent state of panic is the main characteristic of this particular form of anxiety, the presence of panic attacks doesn’t always point towards panic disorder. But those who struggle with this form of anxiety, don’t always see it that way. In fact, some are afraid that one day, their frequent panic attacks will kill them.
And even though this belief is profoundly irrational
As a rule of thumb, you need to have at least four panic attacks a month for several months to be diagnosed with panic disorders.
But aside from having frequent panic attacks, panic disorder is also characterized by the persistent fear of having panic attacks.
In broad lines, agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces.
People who struggle with this type of anxiety don’t do well in public spaces.
But what’s curious is that people with agoraphobia aren’t afraid of all open spaces. Some struggle with shopping malls or movie theaters while others go avoid passing through the city center during rush hour.
So, what exactly do all people with agoraphobia have in common? It’s fear; the fear of not being able to escape quickly if something bad happens; the fear of having a panic attack in front of all those strangers.
For example, if you’re afraid (beyond reasonable limits) of terrorist attacks, you might end up avoiding any crowded, enclosed space that you believe would be the perfect target.
But since the frequency of terrorist attacks is ridiculously small, avoiding public spaces such as shopping malls, train stations, or movie theaters, becomes problematic.
#5 Social anxiety
Social anxiety is the second most popular form of anxiety, affecting roughly 6.8% of the total U.S. population.
In a way, it kind of makes sense for us to feel overwhelmed by social situations, considering our brains are not fully adapted to today’s hyperconnected society where, each day, many of us interact with tens on people.
Social anxiety occurs when we see a cute boy/girl but are too afraid to go talk to them. It occurs when we feel uncomfortable and ‘awkward’ at parties and social events.
The core of this condition is an irrational and exaggerated fear of evaluation or negative feedback. And these irrational fears trigger an entire array of physical and psychological symptoms, as this short video brilliantly explains:
We avoid giving a public presentation because we think others will find it boring or we refuse to eat in front of others because we think we look ‘weird’ and ‘silly.’ That’s pretty much how social anxiety looks like.
#6 Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs as a result of a traumatic event.
From car accidents, armed conflicts, and natural disasters to physical abuse or the unexpected passing of a loved one, numerous events could leave a serious mark on our mental health.
As a result, we begin to live in fear and anxiety, tormented by flashbacks of past suffering. We experience all sorts of intrusive thoughts and avoid anything that reminds us of the terrible events we’ve been through.
In the U.S. nearly 3.5% of the total population is dealing with this condition. That’s 7.7 million adults. Furthermore, it seems two of the leading causes of PTSD are childhood sexual abuse and rape.
#7 Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million U.S. adults and is equally common among women and men.
The two fundamental components of OCD are the obsessive thoughts that fuel anxiety and the compulsive behaviors that lower it. In other words, OCD keeps us stuck in a never-ending circle of obsessions and compulsions that can make your life a living hell.
If we look at the obsessive thoughts specific to this condition, we notice OCD has several subtypes, from checking, ordering, and hoarding to contamination (e.g., germs) and mental contamination (e.g., intrusive thoughts).
Although it may sound difficult, breaking the vicious circle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors is the only way to keep OCD in check.
#8 Health anxiety
Health anxiety is a specific form of anxiety that occurs when we think we might be dealing with a severe medical condition.
Those of us dealing with this type of anxiety are preoccupied continuously with checking health parameters like body temperature, heartbeat, skin marks, and other signs that may indicate a serious condition.
You interpret any change, no matter how subtle and irrelevant it might be, is a clear and irrefutable sign of physical illness.
It like you’re obsessed with finding a medical problem that will finally confirm what you’ve always known – that you’re dealing with a medical condition which will get worse, ruin your life, and eventually kill you.
In its severe form, health anxiety can keep you in and out of the hospital. It can convince you to waste time and money on unnecessary tests and medical procedures that confirm the very conclusion you stubbornly refuse to believe – that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.
How to Diagnose Anxiety
When it comes to evaluating and diagnosing anxiety, mental health experts possess a vast arsenal of tools that can accurately assess your overall condition.
To conduct a detailed and unbiased evaluation, clinicians follow a clear set of criteria that are meant to help them determine the type of anxiety you’re dealing with.
These criteria can be found either in:
- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.
- The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) published by the World Health Organization.
But aside from specific criteria which help clinicians set an exact diagnostic and establish the best course of action, there are also numerous tests that can objectively assess your anxiety.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular anxiety assessment tools:
- Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI)
- Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS)
- Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS)
- Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale (BFNE)
- Leibowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 9GAD-7)
- Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN)
- Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)
- Overall Anxiety Severity and Impairment Scale (OASIS)
If you wish to gain a better understanding of your symptoms, complete our anxiety test, and you’ll receive a detailed list of your most frequent symptoms along with some useful recommendations, within 24 hours.
When to Seek Treatment for Anxiety
The same Facts&stats I used to quote the prevalence of different types of anxiety, display a worrying picture of today’s mental health services.
Here are a couple of details:
- Only one-third of those suffering receive treatment despite anxiety being among the treatable conditions.
- Out of all U.S. adults who struggle with GAD, only about 40% receive treatment.
- A good portion of people with social anxiety seeks treatment after about 10 years of living with this condition.
- Children as young as 7 years old can develop specific phobias.
- The first symptoms of OCD occur when you’re about 19.
But even though today’s mental health services are far from being perfect – no point in detailing the flaws right now – help is available if you truly wish to regain control of your life.
When anxiety is interfering with your day-to-day life, set up an appointment with a mental health professional via online or offline means.
If your insurance doesn’t cover mental health services and you can’t afford to pay out of pocket, look for non-governmental organizations and free clinics that can offer you affordable services.
Any help is better than no help.
Science-backed Treatments for Anxiety
As I mentioned earlier, anxiety is a highly treatable condition.
Decades of research have helped mental health experts understand the inner workings of anxiety and develop effective strategies for managing and preventing this condition, regardless of the type.
Let’s look at some of the main science-backed treatments for anxiety:
#1 Counseling and psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is one of the most popular approaches to anxiety management.
A licensed counselor or therapist can help you get to the bottom of the problem, understand the type of anxiety you’re dealing with, and find proper ways to manage it.
Although it’s difficult to determine the exact number of sessions one needs to overcome anxiety-related issues, many of today’s validated therapeutic approaches are of short duration.
Having a professional who can offer you valuable self-help strategies and guide your steps towards healing is the kind of support you need to manage anxiety effectively.
When you’re dealing with a severe form of anxiety, therapy alone is just not enough.
It’s almost impossible to focus on implementing various anxiety-reducing habits, when you’re too demotivated and ‘lost’ to leave the house and see a professional.
Regardless of what some might tell you about “Big Pharma,” psychiatric medication continues to be a highly effective approach to anxiety.
Even though, like any other drugs, psychiatric treatments present some risks and unpleasant side effects, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
One study on the effectiveness of psychiatric medication revealed that, for some types of anxiety, a medication-therapy combo proves to be highly effective, with positive results lasting up to two years after treatment.
Meditative practices are part of what mental health professionals call “the third wave” in cognitive-behavioral therapy. This refers to a major shift in how we understand problems like anxiety and a set of new strategies that focus on mindfulness and acceptance.
As a result, practices like mindfulness meditation for stress and anxiety have gained massive popularity.
Meditation involves a deliberate act of looking inward and observing your thoughts and sensations, without identifying with them. It’s about being present – here and now – with zero concerns about past struggles or future worries.
But meditation isn’t a strategy but a way of life. It’s something you should aim to practice for the rest of your life if you wish to keep anxiety and stress in check.
And with so many apps and online meditation programs, it would be a shame not to give it a try.
Exercising is the simplest and most natural treatment for any type of anxiety.
A quick jog around the neighborhood or an hour at the gym can do wonders for your overall sense of health and well-being.
After about half an hour of physical activity, your body releases endorphins which reduce anxiety by activating opiate receptors, generating a sense of relief and satisfaction.
A meta-analysis on the anxiolytic effect of exercise has revealed that physical activity can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms, boost wellbeing, and keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape.
‘Sweat’ your anxiety out with some light jogging, a relaxing swim, or a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
To Sum Up
There are eight types of anxiety and knowing how each of them manifests allows you to find the right coping tools and regain control of your life.
The first step is getting an accurate diagnosis of your condition. Fortunately, today’s mental health professionals are trained and equipped to conduct in-depth assessments which can accurately reveal the type of anxiety you’re dealing with.
As for treatment, there are plenty of options ranging from psychiatric medication (for severe cases) and therapy to physical activity and meditative practices. In fact, you can gain access to an entire arsenal of techniques and strategies to manage your anxiety by subscribing to CAMP.
Regardless of which type of anxiety you might be dealing with, remember this condition is highly treatable as long as you’re willing to receive support.
So, which of the eight types of anxiety sound most familiar to you? Have you ever been diagnosed with a form of anxiety? Are there any tips or strategies that worked well for you?
Share your story by leaving a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.
I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.