Experiencing anxiety for the first time can be scary. Figuring out exactly which anxiety disorder you’re suffering from can help to give you the upper hand. So, what are the 6 types of anxiety disorders?
These are the 6 most common anxiety disorders. Anything not specifically mentioned above is likely a subset of one of these 6. If you haven’t heard of these anxiety disorders before, no worries, we’re about to go over each in detail.
What are the 6 Types of Anxiety Disorders?
Variability of Anxiety Disorders
It’s often said that “variety is the spice of life.” If this old saying is true, I hope you like your anxiety served spicy.
Anxiety is an emotional state that comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms.
Whether you develop anxiety in your lifetime or not will, in large part, be determined by a combination of your genetics and your environment. This is what scientists call the nature vs nurture debate.
Your genetics can certainly predispose you to developing an anxiety disorder, but which anxiety disorder you develop can often seem like a complete roll of the dice.
Take my family for example. We are definitely genetically prone to anxiety (I always knew our good looks and smarts would come with a caveat ).
But, even within my own family, we cover pretty much the whole spectrum of anxiety disorder. In other words, even sharing many of the same genes, we each express anxiety completely differently from one another.
Here’s an example:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – My sister experiences mild, general anxiety on a seemingly daily basis; she is perpetually stressed out.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – I’ve literally watched my “tough guy” cousin panic at the table of a restaurant when he wants to ask for extra ketchup.
- Panic Disorder – This was my big struggle through much of high school and college; random, intense panic attacks.
- Phobias – My grandmother was agoraphobic and claustrophobic. Most of the rest of us struggle with some irrational fear or another.
- PTSD – Actually, thankfully, this one has eluded my family so far.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – I have another cousin who is OCD about collecting every videogame and keeping each of the titles in ABC order.
As you can see, my family alone hits the anxiety disorder B-I-N-G-O jackpot. If this variability exists within one family, just imagine how different anxiety can look across the global population!
How Do Anxiety Disorders Feel Different From One Another?
There are some aspects of each anxiety disorder that are pretty similar. Any of the major anxiety disorders can manifest with these symptoms:
- General sense of unease, fear, or panic
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling jittery
- Tingling, numb, sweaty, or cold limbs/digits
- Shortness of Breath
- Heart Palpitations
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Dizziness or Lightheadedness
- Dry Mouth
These are some of the symptoms of anxiety that are not specific to any one anxiety disorder. No matter what your anxiety disorder may be, they can be accompanied by these symptoms.
Now, let’s take a look at how the 6 types of anxiety disorders may differ:
As you can see from this chart, anxiety disorders can differ from one another greatly. Some are more likely to form during childhood, others as adults, etc. The one surefire constant is that they pretty much all suck. How else can anxiety disorders differ from person to person?
- Some people experience short, intense bouts of anxiety for only a few moments at a time. Others may feel just a little bit anxious, but all throughout the day.
- Some people may suffer from anxiety every single day like clockwork. Others may by able to go a few weeks, months, or even years without feeling anxious at all.
- For some people, their anxiety can be triggered by a specific person, place, thing, or situation. Others may experience anxiety that comes up seemingly completely randomly.
Based on factors such as the ones listed above, we can get some measure of understanding about our anxiety, including which anxiety disorder we might be suffering from. The intention of this page is to help provide you with some basic information. It should not substitute for professional medical advice*, but it can be a great starting point for those interested in taking the self-help route for the time being.
Once you know which anxiety disorder you're dealing with, it'll be easier to take the next steps toward managing or treating your anxiety.
In just a minute, we’ll go into each of the 6 types of anxiety disorders in detail. Chances are, you’ll find one (or more) that really hits home and sounds like what you may be dealing with. When you find the one that best fits your symptoms, click the link for more information and resources on that particular disorder.
*It is important to keep in mind that the information on this website should not substitute for medical advice or diagnoses. Please read our medical disclaimer before reading further or attempting to self-diagnose.*
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
The first of the various different anxiety disorders is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, also known as GAD.
As its name suggests, this disorder is characterized by a general state of anxiety. People suffering from GAD may feel anywhere from a little to a lot of anxiety, on a chronic basis. This may be daily, or just occasionally.
The key difference between this anxiety disorder and others is that, with GAD, there does not typically need to be a specific trigger or stressor to provoke the onset of the anxiety.
If you feel anxiety for little to no reason, or if just about anything can stress you out, you may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by feelings of heightened anxiety or stress in social settings.
Compared to GAD, this disorder does not occur quite as randomly.
People with Social Anxiety Disorder will typically feel the onset of anxiety symptoms before or during a social situation. This often includes job interviews, presentations, speeches, dating, and other interpersonal events.
In more severe cases, people can experience social anxiety anywhere where they may have to interact with other people. This could include events as casual as going to the gym, grocery shopping, etc.
If you experience anxiety when engaging in or thinking about social situations, you may have Social Anxiety Disorder.
A panic attack is usually a short but intense burst of anxiety, lasting from seconds to moments long.
You can recognize a panic attack from the feeling of impending doom that they bring about. The victim of a panic attack may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, or feeling "tightness" in the chest or stomach area. Panic attacks are often mistaken for heart attacks or other, more serious, health issues; the victim may literally believe they are dying.
For some, panic attacks will have a stimulus or trigger to bring them on. For others, panic attacks may occur out of the blue, with no obvious provocation.
If you experience panic attacks on a regular or semi-regular basis, you may have Panic Disorder.
A phobia is an extreme fear or avoidance of a specific thing or event.
Some common phobias include arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, and glossophobia, the fear of public speaking.
What differentiates a phobia from a normal fear is the intensity and irrational nature of the anxiety it causes. For example, it is common and normal to dislike or want to avoid spiders. It becomes a phobia when this fear is so intense that even seeing a spider can cause extreme anxiety or panic attacks; or when the thought of spiders alone is enough to keep you from attending a camping trip with your friends.
Regardless of intensity, if your anxiety is brought about by a very specific stimulus, you may have a phobia.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder brought about by the experience of a traumatic event.
You may experience PTSD on an occasional or regular basis following a war, sexual or physical assault, natural disaster, or accident.
Victims of PTSD often have difficulty sleeping or relaxing, and may have frequent flashbacks or feel they are reliving the incident. It is also common for victims of PTSD to develop a phobia-like avoidance of anything related to the event.
If you are experiencing any degree of recurring anxiety following a traumatic event, you may be suffering from PTSD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, can vary quite a bit from person to person.
Most people have a strange obsession or compulsion or two, and often it is relatively benign; organizing your desk a certain way, stepping a certain amount of times on each floor tile or avoiding cracks, etc. These small habits are often jokingly referred to as being "OCD," but the reality of a genuine Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can be much more serious.
For some, OCD can become so intense that it can be genuinely debilitating.
Your "daily rituals" may evolve to the point where they interfere with your life. Checking the locks on the doors of your house 20 times before going to sleep, or having to wash your hands every time you touch your coffee mug.
OCD is a largely irrational and ritual-based anxiety disorder.
If you feel an obsessive compulsion to complete these irrational rituals, or a sense of anxiety when you do not, you may have OCD.
Can a Person Have Multiple Anxiety Disorders?
In my personal opinion, it’s not only possible; it’s highly likely that people who suffer from one anxiety disorder may also be prone to suffer from another anxiety disorder.
The reasoning here is pretty simple.
For one thing, anxiety disorders are not all that unrelated. An individual with social anxiety disorder, for example, may feel anxious in a crowded environment. It’s highly probably, then, that this same individual would also develop some degree of glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. Now, assume this individual had their first panic attack while anxiously giving a speech; now they may become more prone to future panic attacks, and could even develop panic disorder. So that individual could eventually have social anxiety disorder, a specific phobia, and panic disorder!
Much like there is a link between anxiety and depression, there is a very strong link between each of the anxiety disorders. If you are prone to one, you may find yourself more susceptible to another.
In my own case, I can tell you that, at different stages of my life, I’ve dealt with just about every one of the major anxiety disorders – to some degree – except for PTSD.
So yes, unfortunately, a person can most certainly have multiple anxiety disorders.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Only a medical professional is qualified to officially diagnose you with an anxiety disorder. But, with that said, sometimes it can be pretty obvious which kind of anxiety you’re having an issue with.
Once you know which anxiety disorder you have, you’ll have to decide which route you want to take for treatment.
Put simply, there are two main options:
- You can seek professional treatment
- You may learn self-help methods for managing your own anxiety disorder
This comes down to a matter of preference. You may prefer one over the other, or you may prefer a combination of both. I personally relied solely on self-help to rid myself of anxiety, but that won't necessarily work for everyone.
Seeking professional treatment is a great step towards beating an anxiety disorder. If your anxiety or depression ever get to the point where you are considering self-harm, harming others, or just generally feel that it is getting out of control, you should absolutely and immediately seek professional help.
Typically, professional treatment will take one of two routes:
I’ll tell you bluntly how I feel about medication as a means of treating anxiety disorders… I think it is the wrong choice for most people. Prescription medications are a fast solution, but not necessarily the best long-term solution. I often describe it as “putting a Band-aid on a leaky pipe;” it might work for a little while, but ultimately you are neglecting the root cause of the problem. Except for with severe cases of personality disorders like Bipolar Disorder, medication is rarely the ideal solution. There is no such thing as a “free ride” when it comes to drugs. You will eventually develop a tolerance to such medications and they will no longer be effective. There is no reliable way to measure “chemical imbalances” in people with anxiety and depression; please do not fool yourself into incorrectly believing there is something wrong with you that only a drug can fix. At the very least, you should consider prescription medications to be your last line of defense.
Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is something I can definitely recommend. Psychotherapy is essentially talk therapy; you would sit with a therapist and talk through your disorder, in the hopes of better understanding and managing your emotions and your anxiety disorder. One of the most common forms of psychotherapy for the treatment of anxiety is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is centered around helping you to change the thoughts and behavioral patterns that cause you to experience anxiety. If you don’t see results with your first therapist, or just don’t vibe well with them, don’t hesitate to get yourself a new one; some people have to go through a few different therapists until they find one that works for them. Nowadays, there are plenty of online therapy options that can help you treat your anxiety from home. If you haven’t tried it yet, you may as well give it a shot.
I’m obviously biased, but I truly do believe that there are adequate self-help resources available online for most people to fully treat and manage their anxiety disorders, even without seeking professional help.
As someone who developed panic disorder around age 17, I can personally attest to the fact that even severe anxiety disorders can be managed without medication, as long as you’re willing to put the work in.
What does self-help consist of?
- Educate yourself on what anxiety is
- Make necessary lifestyle changes
- Utilize recommended anxiety resources
- Push yourself beyond your comfort zone when possible
There is plenty of information across this site to help you get started. Click any of the above links to take the next few steps!
Congrats on taking the first few steps toward an anxiety-free life.
You can do this!