What is an Anxiety Disorder – 7 Different Types of Anxiety

Anxiety disorder comes in a variety of different forms – some anxiety disorders are easy to recognize as they crash into our lives and others arrive by stealth as part of something else – depression, illness, thyroid difficulties, epilepsy, etc.

What Is Anxiety?

The origin of the word ‘anxious‘, which comes from the Latin word ‘angere‘ and means ‘to struggle or to choke‘, gives a good insight
into the nature of anxiety and the types of feelings and symptoms associated with it.

Most feelings of anxiety contain a sense of ‘choking or tightness’ in the chest and results in breathing difficulties, mostly difficulties associated with panting, hyper-ventilating or shallow breathing.

Other symptoms that may accompany this sense of choking include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaky legs
  • Nausea
  • Feeling light-headed and fainting
  • Racing heart which can actually feeling you are having a heart attack

Seven Types Of Anxiety

These symptoms manifest themselves in different combinations and strengths giving rise to a variety of anxiety type conditions making life difficult or in some cases virtually impossible to live. Seven major categories of anxiety or panic disorders are recognized by mental health practitioners (Psychiatry and related professions use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as their basic classification methodology for Mental Disorders):

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder (more serious and disturbing)
  • Specific Phobias (Spiders, Snakes, Lifts and a variety of other scary things)
  • Social Phobia (people can be really terrifying)
  • Agoraphobia (often the play mate of Panic Disorder)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (must keep on repeating, and repeating and repeating)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) (post traumatic aftermath anxiety)

You don’t need to have a full-blown crisis to think that something is wrong. In addition, these terms are diagnostic categories which should only be used by mental health professional and be careful when you start using them on your self as some of them can look very similar to each other but have different ontologies and natural progressions.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is thought of as the ‘common cold’ of anxiety disorders as it afflicts so many people and can be so pervasive. GAD is a consistent and continuous and pervasive state of anxiety. It is there when you wake up and is still burbling away in the back ground of your mind and emotional state when you go to bed – a constant, fearful and disturbing bed fellow, never letting up or allowing you to escape a state of low-level constant worry and anxiety, irrespective of what you are doing.

Panic Disorder

As we have said before anxiety and panic is part of everyday life, but when we are talking about panic disorder we are talking about something that is way, way beyond the everyday. The more common name for panic disorder is panic attack and if you have never had a panic attack count your lucky stars because you don’t want one. Panic attacks comprise a range of severe symptoms that include:

  • Irregular, rapid and pounding heart
  • Perspiring
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Feeling that events or unreal or a sense of detachment
  • May include screaming, shouting and running around
  • Speech difficulties
  • Fear of impending death
  • Thoughts of going insane or losing complete control

These attacks last for 10 minutes but can be longer and begins with some seemingly simple event that triggers it.

Professionally, a panic disorder is said to exist when more than one panic attack has occurred. People with panic attacks live in fear of the next one occurring, but often you can have one or two and never have any again. Beside the enormous difficulties of the feelings which occur during a panic attack, the biggest difficulty is that people start altering their lives in fear of these attacks or that they may occur again giving rise to a whole set of ‘secondary problems’ which in turn can become life limiting.

Specific Phobias

people seem to have many natural fears that are almost hard-wired into their brains stemming from childhood or evolutionary instincts. These seems to cover snakes, strangers, darkness, open spaces, heights, sight of blood and even cold – almost intuitively as if they could contain intrinsic dangers. It is felt, by some, that these are remnants of a more ancient and primitive defense signally system that is an evolutionary left over, hence reflecting primitive fears which probably aided survival during those periods.

Sometimes these fears do not send quiet intuitive warning signals but become overwhelming and disabling. When these fears are severe and attached to a specific object – the mere mention of which or sight of it triggers an adverse disabling reaction of anxiety and panic.

Social Phobia

Social phobia is an adverse avoidance of people, because they fear exposure to public criticism and evaluation – they crumble in fear of public comments whether these are real or imagined. Most often these fears occur in peoples heads before the event even occurs and thus manifests itself in situations of performing, public speaking, meetings, parties, eating in public, etc.

The person suffering from a social phobia believes or sees themselves as being defective and that this fault or weakness is ‘public’ and will attract severe negative criticism. They also worry so much about what others are thinking of them (usually negative thoughts) that they don’t listen properly and consequently seem odd in conversations and tend to get things ‘wrong’.

How do you know if you are suffering from a Social Phobia?

If you manifest the following symptoms over a prolonged period:

  • You fear meeting unfamiliar/new people; especially where you can be observed or assessed in some kind of way
  • Have to be in uncomfortable public situations, e.g. public speaking
  • Your fear is greater than what the situation warrants – we are not talking about mere ‘stage fright’ here. Upon meeting new people you suffer from nausea, perspire heavily and stammer
  • You avoid fearful situations because you can’t handle the anxiety feelings that arise.

Unfortunately, people who suffer from Social Phobias may also have to deal with secondary problems as a result of the quick fixers they use as a means of quelling their anxious feelings, such as, alcohol, tranquilizers, social drugs which can result in drug addiction, kidney damage,increased levels of agitation from herbal supplements, etc.


Agoraphobia often is the bed mate of Panic Disorder, in that almost half of those who suffer from Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder also have the accompanying problem of Agoraphobia. unlike the other phobias, this phobia begins in adulthood and the sufferers of Agoraphobia:

  • Live in terror of being trapped
  • Having a Panic Attack
  • Being ill and ‘bringing up’ and/or
  • Having diarrhea in public.

They make every effort (almost desperate effort) to avoid situations from which they cannot easily escape and will not go to places from which help is not easily available or under their control should they need it.

Agoraphobia often starts in a simple way, such as, being in a crowd or public place, theatre,train,sports stadiums. etc. and then develops into something more complex. So if you have feelings of being anxious or uncomfortable in these types of places, but you can still live your daily life you don’t suffer from Agoraphobia.

Although, many times Agoraphobia, like Panic Attacks can come out of the blue, it does not mean that you are mentally ill and are cursed with this problem for the rest of your life. It can be mediated and the prognosis is good so you are not trapped into years of medication or hospitalization.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD can have a serious impact on the lives not only of those who suffer from it but for the family members and friends of OCD sufferers. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is something which people learn to live with more than they ‘cure’. But the success stories are numerous and it does not have to be a lifetime curse for all those associated with it.

A person with OCD may manifest with either obsessions or compulsions or both.

Obsessions are unwelcome, often disturbing and repetitive images, thoughts, impulses and urges that ‘jump’ into the mind. Thankfully, people who have these compulsions don’t carry them out, but they can be very disturbing when having them. The obsessions however haunt them and leave them feeling very depleted and thinking they are dangerous or some such thing. Imagine going to church and having a continuous and repetitive urge of wanting to shout out the worst possible obscenities. Telling such a person that most people, sometimes or the other, feel these urges but don’t act on them, so there is nothing to worry about. This not much help when these thought pop into their minds every two or three minutes and they feel they have no control over these urges – must drive them crazy with worry and anxiety.

Compulsions are repetitive actions or strategies carried out to temporarily reduce anxiety or distress. These repetitive actions can be carried hundreds of times in a day, such as, hand washing, locking doors, switching off lights, arranging pens on a desk, lining up clothes in a cupboard or having to touch the same object over and over. These actions become so dominating that the person cannot go outside mor conduct any other life activities. Most compulsion start off from simple good every necessary activities or practices, then start getting a total life of their own until they completely occupy and dominate the suffers life and overwhelm everything else in the persons life.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD)

PSTD has become a popular depiction in modern movies, especially those dealing with post-Vietnam issues. Although post World War II events would talk about being ‘shell shock’, desert crazy, etc. PSTD arises from some terror event like rape, kidnap,crashes, torture, being trapped and war conditions where a persons is exposed to sustained a continuous exposure to the terror event where these feelings become anchored or embedded into the person mental experience causing the person to relive.

Usually, or some say always, three are three components to the PSTD experience and diagnosis, namely:

  • You relive the event
    • Unwanted memories or flashbacks of the terror events during the day and/or in dreams
    • Feeling the trauma is happening again or repeating itself
    • Experiencing physical or emotional experiences which remind one of or triggers the recall or re-experience of the event.
  • You avoid anything associated with the event
    • Block out all thoughts of the event
    • Stay away from people or places that remind you of the event
    • Lose a sense of having a future
    • Won’t help the police or authorities with the event
  • Continuously on your guard and easily provoked
    • Become very easily startled or touchy
    • Lose your temper very quickly
    • Can’t concentrate
    • Can’t sleep

PSTD is very complicated to diagnose and this is not a diagnose you should arrive at for yourself. It is a journey your should undertake with a professional trauma counselor and avoid the OTC and self-medications to help yourself because you only land up with further complications and more recalcitrant problems.