If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ve likely branded yourself an “anxious” person at some point. But there is no such thing as one anxiety disease: There are several different types, and it’s possible to suffer from a few of them at the same time.
Anxiety disorders affect some 40 million adults in the U.S., according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). That’s as high as 18 percent of the population, making them one of the most common mental health afflictions. If you suffer from anxiety, you’re certainly not alone. Here are the different types, what they mean for your mental health, and the best ways to battle them.
GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects over 3 percent of the U.S. population. People with GAD will typically worry excessively and chronically, meaning there will always be fear in the back of their minds for months and even years. Having this chronic worrying is mentally exhausting, which often means people with the disorder will feel fatigued and drained, have difficulty concentrating, experience muscle tension, or be unable to sleep well. Fortunately, it can be treated with medication like anti-anxiety meds or antidepressants, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Panic disorder refers to a condition in which sudden, debilitating attacks of fear or panic impair a person’s daily life. During a panic attack, a person will experience intense physical symptoms including hyperventilation, increased pulse, dizziness or lightheadedness, tingling limbs, chest pain, or abdominal pain. Such physical symptoms can often be scary, since they share qualities with symptoms of heart attacks or strokes, and typically exacerbate the panic attack. Fortunately, like GAD, panic disorder can be treated with medication and psychotherapy.
OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
OCD may be one of the most poorly understood mental disorders out there: It’s easy to stereotype people with OCD as being excessively clean or orderly. In fact, many myths about OCD can be debunked by science.
There are two pillars of OCD: obsessions, which are thoughts or images that repeat in the person’s mind, and compulsions. The person will feel out of control and find the thoughts disturbing, and experience accompanying feelings of fear or worry. These obsessions can involve fears of contamination, unwanted sexual thoughts, religious fears of offending God or morality, or being worried they will harm someone they care about.
Compulsions involve the actions and “rituals” that follow the obsessive thought. Ritualistic steps often make the person feel like they have more control over their thought by allowing them to “cancel” it out. OCD can be complicated to treat, but there are cognitive behavioral therapies that help people face their fears and overcome their obsessions and compulsions, such as Exposure and Response Prevention.
Surprisingly, phobias affect nearly 9 percent of the population, mainly women. Phobias involve the overwhelming fear of an object, organism, or situation that is objectively harmless. Phobias like the fear of open spaces, close spaces, snakes, and elevators, among others, can be damaging to a person’s daily life and relationships. Getting help can include being prescribed beta blockers, antidepressants, or sedatives as well as participating in cognitive behavioral therapy or desensitization or exposure therapy.
SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER
It’s one thing to be shy or an introvert, but in extreme cases, a person may suffer from social anxiety disorder — the fear of being judged or scrutinized in social situations. This can prevent sufferers from socializing, going to work, or even leaving their homes. Conquering social anxiety disorder might involve exposure therapy to overcome the feelings of nervous “stage fright,” as well as anti-anxiety meds.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
PTSD is often listed as a mental illness entirely on its own, but it is often linked to the anxiety umbrella and it may be one of the most serious anxiety disorders. PTSD stems from a traumatic incident or even a brain injury that damages a person’s mental health and results in severe flashbacks, depression, and anxiety. Because of the complexity of the condition, there are various types of treatments that can be individualized based on the person. For more ways to build defenses against anxiety, check out these helpful small tips.