Types of Anxiety Disorders & How to Tell Them Apart
Experiencing anxiety is a normal part of everyday life, especially when faced with stressful events at home, work, or school. However, if you are being plagued by excessive worrying, that may be an indicator of an existing anxiety disorder, and may warrant further intervention.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent form of mental illness. It is estimated that a whopping 30% of adults will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in life, with prevalence rates spiking during global crises such as recessions or pandemics. While these disorders have the potential to significantly hinder job or school performance, and affect quality of everyday life, they can usually be managed with appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
In this article, we explain four types of anxiety disorders and how to recognize them:
  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  2. Social Anxiety Disorder
  3. Specific phobias
  4. Panic Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the most common type of anxiety disorder, is typically marked by persistent worrying over a broad range of areas, which can extend from worries about the health of self and loved ones, personal finances, and job or school performance, to anxieties about uncontrollable catastrophes such as natural disasters or political collapse. This worrying may manifest in:
  • An inability to stop thinking about worst-case scenarios
  • Overthinking plans and contingencies for possible adverse events
  • Avoiding situations or putting off tasks that may cause you to feel overwhelmed or anxious
The persistent worrying can chip away at one’s resolve over time, resulting in physical and mental exhaustion, and leading to a host of physical symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, and muscle tension. Generalized anxiety can also result in difficulties falling and staying asleep, further contributing to the experience of daily exhaustion.

Social Anxiety Disorder:

However, while generalized anxiety often involves worrying over a broad spectrum of areas, anxiety that is centered around social situations may be better indicative of Social Anxiety Disorder. This common disorder often involves persistent worries about being judged negatively, or being embarrassed in front of others, which may manifest in:
  • Experiencing fear and dread in anticipation of upcoming social obligations
  • Repeatedly evaluating one’s actions during past social interactions
  •  Avoiding social situations or enduring them with great distress anxious
The stress experienced by those with Social Anxiety Disorder can cause physical symptoms during social interaction like sweating, shaking, or nausea. This often affects one’s ability to interact with others, which may lead to isolation, loneliness, and poor self-esteem in the long- term.

Specific phobias:

Anxiety centered around a more specific object or situation may be the result of a phobia. Symptoms of specific phobias typically include:
  • Intense fear when exposed to, or even just thinking about the object or situation
  • Worsening fear as the object or situation gets closer in time or physical proximity
  • Going out of the way to avoid the object or situation, or enduring it with great distress anxious
Phobias can involve fear of specific objects such as fear of spiders, small spaces, or heights, but can also involve more general circumstances. Agoraphobia, for example, is the fear of being in places or situations which are hard to escape or seek help from, in the event that things go wrong. Those suffering from agoraphobia thus experience anxiety in a broad range of environments, such as:
  • Large, open spaces like parking lots and bridges
  • Enclosed spaces like stores or movie theatres
  • Public transportation such as buses, trains, or ships anxious
In severe cases, those suffering from agoraphobia and other phobias may be unable to leave the house altogether, constraining their ability to work, or perform essential life tasks like shopping for groceries.

Panic Disorder:

Finally, severe anxiety may sometimes manifest in short but intense bouts of extreme fear and anxiety, known as panic attacks. Recurrent panic attacks are usually indicative of Panic Disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack include:
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Feelings of choking, shortness of breath, or dizziness
  • Feelings of unreality, fuzziness, or disconnection
  • Distorted perception of time, and even size of things anxious
As panic attacks are intensely frightening and distressing experiences, those who suffer panic disorders often live in fear of future panic attacks. This leads to constant worrying that an attack will occur, and going out of one’s way to avoid situations which may trigger an attack.

How to tell them apart:

Anxiety disorders can have severe consequences on quality of life, as well as on work or school performance. If you or a loved one are experiencing persistent anxiety, you may be wondering if you are suffering from one of these disorders, and if so, how you can tell them apart.
In such a case, the underlying cause of anxiety may provide a hint as to the type of disorder being suffered. If the worrying is centered around a specific object or situation, such as social interaction, it may be social anxiety or a specific phobia. However, if the worrying concerns a wide variety of areas, it may be indicative of generalized anxiety disorder. The way in which the anxiety manifests also helps to differentiate the disorders. Recurrent panic attacks are usually the result of panic disorder.
With appropriate diagnosis, anxiety disorders can be effectively managed and treated. If you suspect that you or a loved one are suffering from an anxiety disorder, a psychiatrist or psychologist at Private Space Medical will be able to diagnose your symptoms and manage your condition holistically.
Rebecca Liu
Wellness Editor
Private Space Medical