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Types of anxiety disorder

Anxiety

Feeling anxious is not unusual. Most people experience fears, worries, and apprehensions that come and go. But sometimes anxiety can become more serious or ongoing.

If feeling anxious is affecting your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder. Read on to learn what an anxiety disorder is and how to recognise common anxiety disorder types.

What is an anxiety disorder? 

An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition where you have intense feelings of anxiety. These feelings may disrupt your daily activities.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you may feel overwhelmed by fear, worry, or apprehension. But with the right treatment, your feelings of anxiety will become easier to manage.

If you have an anxiety disorder and start feeling anxious, you may notice you are:

  • breathing fast
  • feeling restless
  • having trouble concentrating
  • feeling your heart beat rapidly

These are common physical symptoms of anxiety disorders. Do you have these symptoms regularly? Discuss them with your doctor.

Common types of anxiety disorder

Below we explore some common types of anxiety disorder. Read on to learn how to recognise each type.

Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a type of anxiety disorder that is not limited to a specific situation or issue.

If you have GAD, you may feel worried, anxious, or tense regularly — regardless of what is happening in your life.

GAD is common, affecting around 5 percent of people in the UK. But each person with GAD’s experience is different. GAD may cause different problems for different people.

If you think you may have GAD, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. GAD symptoms can be well-managed with the right treatment.


Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by social situations. For example:

  • meeting strangers
  • attending social gatherings
  • having meetings at work
  • speaking on the phone
  • going shopping

If you have social anxiety, you may feel an intense fear about what may happen on these occasions. You may worry about embarrassing yourself, being criticised, or having to make eye contact.

As well as worrisome thoughts, you may have physical symptoms. These may include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • feeling sick
  • sweating
  • shaking

Social anxiety is common and treatable. It is a good idea to speak to a doctor if you have the symptoms of social anxiety.


Panic disorder 

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where you have frequent panic attacks that don’t have an obvious cause.

A panic attack is an episode of intense anxiety and physical symptoms which normally last for 5 to 20 minutes.

If you have a panic attack, you may feel like you’re having a heart attack. This is because a panic attack may cause heart palpitations. This is when your heart feels like it is racing or beating irregularly.

Other physical panic attack symptoms include:

  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • finding it hard to breathe

These symptoms are caused by a release of adrenaline as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This is body’s response to intense anxiety.

A panic attack may feel serious, but it is not dangerous. If you experience panic attacks, speak to your doctor. Panic disorder is manageable with the right treatment.


Phobias

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder triggered by a specific situation or object (phobia source).

If you have a phobia, you experience overwhelming fear when exposed your phobia source. You may also feel anxious thinking about the possibility of having to be exposed to it.

To avoid these feelings, you may organise your life so you do not have to come into contact with your phobia source.

Phobias may cause physical anxiety symptoms including:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • feeling sick
  • sweating

 Phobias can be specific or complex. A specific phobia is a phobia of a specific animal, environment, object, or part of the body.

A complex phobia develops around a circumstance or situation. Often a complex phobia involves anxiety around having a panic attack in that circumstance or situation. Social phobia (social anxiety disorder) is an example of a complex phobia.

If you think you may have a specific or complex phobia, speak to your doctor. Phobias can be well-managed with the right treatment.



Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. For example:

  • an accident
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • a natural disaster
  • military combat

PTSD is not uncommon. Researchers estimate that 20 percent of people who experience a trauma may develop PTSD symptoms.

If you have PTSD, you may be constantly anticipating danger or may startle easily. You may have flashbacks or nightmares about the trauma you experienced or witnessed.

PTSD symptoms happen due to a change in brain chemicals caused by trauma. PTSD is not normally something you can simply move beyond without help.

If you think you may have PTSD, speak to your doctor. Your doctor will help you access treatment to manage your symptoms.  


Obsessive compulsive disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition where you have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

In the UK, researchers estimate that three quarters of a million people are living with and affected by OCD.

If you have OCD, obsessive, repetitive thoughts may make you feel extremely anxious. Compulsive behaviours are actions that you may carry out to relieve your anxiety.

Each person with OCD may have different obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. Common examples are:

  • obsessions around germs or symmetry
  • compulsions around counting or handwashing

Not everyone with OCD will have these specific thoughts or behaviours.

It is not always obvious that a person has OCD. Sometimes a person with OCD may withdraw from social situations to mask their compulsions.

If you think you may have OCD, it is good idea to speak to a doctor. The doctor can help you access treatment that will help you manage your condition.


Body dysmorphic disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) or body dysmorphia is a mental health condition where you fixate on a perceived flaw in your physical appearance.

Researchers estimate 2 percent of the population have BDD.

If you have BDD, you may find it hard to focus on anything other than the bodily imperfection you see in yourself.

BDD may cause you to: 

  • have low self-esteem
  • avoid social situations
  • obsessively groom yourself to mask your perceived flaw
  • feel anxious

Being told that the bodily imperfection you see does not exist, or is not noticeable, probably won’t reassure you.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of BDD, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. Receiving treatment for BDD can improve your symptoms and help you feel better.


Perinatal anxiety

Perinatal anxiety is an anxiety disorder that women may experience during, or a year after, pregnancy.

If you have perinatal anxiety while you are pregnant it is also known as prenatal anxiety. Postnatal anxiety is another name for perinatal anxiety that happens up to a year after giving birth. 

If you have perinatal anxiety, you may:

  • have trouble falling asleep
  • feel overwhelmed by worry
  • be easily irritated
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • have tense muscles

You may also experience symptoms of depression. Researchers estimate that up to 21 percent of pregnant women have symptoms of anxiety or depression.

If you think you may have perinatal anxiety, speak to your doctor. The doctor can help you access the right treatment to manage your condition. 


Health anxiety

Health anxiety (also known as illness anxiety) is a type of anxiety disorder that used to be called hypochondria.

If you have health anxiety, you are constantly worried that you a serious health condition. As such, you may:

  • imagine you are experiencing the physical symptoms of an illness
  • misinterpret minor physical symptoms as something more serious
  • misinterpret physical anxiety symptoms as symptoms of another condition

If you have health anxiety, you may still believe you have a serious illness, even when a doctor confirms that you don’t. The distress of feeling this way may disrupt your daily life.

Does this sound like something you have experienced? Discuss this with your doctor. They can help you to get support to improve your symptoms.