The 7 Types of Anxiety Disorders

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There are 7 types of anxiety disorders listed in the DSM 5 TR. In this video you’ll learn what they are, because when you have a name for something, it can help you find skills and resources to manage it. If you experience an anxiety disorder, It’s not your fault, but there’s something you can do about it.

This video is day 6 of a 30-day course on how to improve your relationship with anxiety. I’m publishing the 30 main videos to YouTube but if you want to learn more there will be bonus videos, workbooks, Q and A’s with me, and extra content in the ad-free course. I’m also going to link to some free anxiety screening tests in the full course. 

It's Risky To Self-Diagnose

Ok, before we jump in to the 7 types of anxiety disorders, can I just mention that it’s generally a little risky to self-diagnose. The first lesson in psych class is usually “Hey, when you hear about these disorders you’ll have a tendency to over diagnose yourself, and this can be harmful.” 

Especially if you diagnose yourself without the support of someone who can teach you the skills and resources to overcome anxiety. 

And that takes us to the other big myth is that an anxiety disorder is permanent. That it’s 100% genetic. Or that it’s a character trait. That if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, that you’ll have it the rest of your life. That this is who you are. 

OK, this is really important- when people say “I have anxiety” what they’re usually trying to say is “There is something wrong with me.” But as you’ve learned in the last segment, “having anxiety” is a normal, natural, healthy part of life. We’re supposed to have anxiety! 

So what’s the difference between experiencing anxiety and having an anxiety disorder?

Most people’s first guess is severity- if you have high levels of anxiety, that must be disordered, right? Again, no. It’s normal, natural, healthy to have high levels of anxiety before a big performance, while waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery, or when facing a life threatening experience. It’s not the level of anxiety. So then what? . 

  1. Your response to anxiety interferes with your functioning But what that really means is that avoidance of the anxiety is what stops you from living life the way you want to. 
  2. The anxiety causes clinically significant distress– the feelings and sensations and thoughts related to anxiety seem unbearable to you.

When we come to understand anxiety disorders as being primarily about avoidance, it opens the door to seeing how treatable they are. The other thing to know is that anxiety disorders aren’t an on/off switch. The symptoms occur on a spectrum. Anxiety assessments have a “clinical cutoff” so, when treated, when you improve your abilities to interact with your emotions, you can get to the point where you don’t meet the criteria any more because the symptoms don’t bother you, they’re managed. In the next video you’ll learn how mental health disorders are really quite different from what the general public understands. 

So my goal in teaching you about the 7 types of anxiety disorders is for you to have a name for what you’re experiencing. Hold any self-labels loosely, use them when they’re helpful, but don’t hold them so rigidly that they limit your options.

7 Types of Anxiety Disorders

So my goal in teaching you about the 7 types of anxiety disorders is for you to have a name for what you’re experiencing. Hold any self-labels loosely, use them when they’re helpful, but don’t hold them so rigidly that they limit your options. 

OK, so that being said. Let’s start with 1—Generalized Anxiety Disorder–  When most people talk about “having anxiety” this is what they’re talking about. Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months.  It’s being chronically worried about many things, even ordinary or routine issues. And the level of worry is disproportionate to the actual situation. Many people feel like they can’t control their anxiety and it affects how you feel physically- you may feel tense, jittery, upset stomach etc. People with GAD often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed.. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another appears. 

Around 6% of Americans experience this, that’s about 1 in 16 people.  With most anxiety disorders, more women are affected than men, and the most common ages are 35-55 and when it’s not treated it can be chronic. It also contributes to other disorders like panic disorder, Major Depression, and Substance abuse disorders. General anxiety also contributes to frequent and costly medical needs

2–Social Anxiety Disorder– Again- very common- around 12% of people experience SAD in their lifetime. That’s when you have high levels of anxiety or fear around social situations, you worry about being judged by others or about making an embarrassing mistake. People with social anxiety often are very self-conscious, they struggle to stop thinking about how they’re holding their hands or if they’re making too much eye contact. There might be physical symptoms like blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea or difficulty speaking in social situations. Some people worry for days or weeks leading up to a social event and ruminate on them afterwards, others experience panic attacks. Women are more likely to be diagnosed than men and it often begins in adolescence, with the median age of onset being 13 years old.

3–Panic Disorder is when you have recurrent, unexpected “panic attacks”, short, sudden, intense feelings of fear. They usually peak within minutes and are often triggered by physical sensations like chest pain, shortness or breath, fluttering or pounding heart, or dizziness. The cycle of panic disorder happens when people worry about them happening again or avoid situations where they have or may happen. Around 11% of the general population has had at least one panic attack in their lifetime, but it’s estimated that only 4.7 percent of people develop panic disorder where you have repeated panic attacks that lead to interfering with functioning. 

4–Agoraphobia- is when people avoid places or situations where they might feel anxious, trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.  The criteria says you need to feel persistent fear or anxiety around two or more of the following: Public transportation, open spaces like marketplaces or bridges, enclosed spaces like theaters, or shops, standing in line or being in a crowd, or being outside the home alone.  This can lead to a slowly shrinking perimeter of “safe places” and people won’t leave their home or their city, etc. For some people, agoraphobia develops after panic attacks. About 1.7% of people in the United States experience agoraphobia in their lifetime. 

5–Specific Phobias- These are when you have extreme fear about one specific thing- like snakes, spiders, heights, flying, etc. Some people have panic attacks when they encounter the thing, others create elaborate avoidance routines to prevent being exposed to the thing they fear, but this can obviously interfere with their ability to live a full life. Specific Phobias often develop during childhood and can be triggered by a traumatic event. Around 12% of people experience a specific phobia in their life. 

6–Selective Mutism- usually in children, this is when a person is unable to speak in certain settings like school or in front of peers, but they’re perfectly capable of speaking in other settings like home. It may look like they are refusing to speak up, but often they feel frozen or trapped. It’s estimated to occur in .7% of the general population, it’s more common in children than adults and it often co-occurs with social anxiety or separation anxiety disorder. 

7–And another childhood disorder, Separation Anxiety is when a child has excessive anxiety about being away from their parents or their home. Around 4% of the general population experiences this and again, it often co-occurs with GAD or SAD.

Other Relevant Disorders

Now there’s a couple of other relevant disorders that I personally group into the broader Anxiety category, even though they are distinct in both features and cause- 

OCD was originally classified as an anxiety disorder but in 2013, it was reclassified as its own category. Anxiety is a common feature of OCD, but they have differences in brain chemistry and function, they respond best to different treatments (Exposure Response Prevention vs. CBT), OCD usually requires a behavioral symptom, where anxiety does not, and Anxiety disorders often include a physical component, where that is not a requirement for ocd. 

Another distinguishing feature of, with OCD, someone frequently seeks reassurance, but reassurance can make the OCD worse, but with anxiety, proper reassurance can sometimes be helpful. For example, you may examine and challenge certain types of thinking, where with ocd, it can lead to really unhelpful loops if you engage too much with intrusive thoughts. 

PTSD– Shares many symptoms with Anxiety disorders, but it could be considered that PTSD is a mental injury, not a mental illness. It’s triggered by a traumatic event, but many people experience traumatic events without developing PTSD.  PTSD is basically when your nervous system gets stuck in hyperdrive- being trapped in a state of constant vigilance, tension, fear. People experiencing PTSD also frequently have flashbacks, unwanted or distorted memories, and these symptoms interfere with their ability to function and enjoy life. 

There are a lot of other conditions that are directly connected to anxiety, they either have some symptoms of anxiety or anxiety can lead to those disorders. For example, depression is often preceded by a period of intense stress and anxiety. Substance abuse disorders may come from an attempt to regulate anxiety or PTSD with drugs. Illness/Health Anxiety (previously called hypochondria) is connected to OCD, as is hoarding disorder, skin picking and hair pulling disorders.  Anorexia is commonly associated with anxiety and fears, and it’s easy to find anxiety around the symptoms of many of the other disorders in the DSM. 

In the next video in this series we’ll talk about the truth about diagnoses, how they aren’t as permanent as you may think, and how there is a lot you can do to promote your mental wellness, and even resolve anxiety disorders so that you no longer have them. 

When it comes down to it, it’s recommended that you work with an individualized provider like a therapist and or doctor when:

  • Your anxiety is interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life. 
  • It’s hard to control your worry or fear, or if
  • You have suicidal thoughts

If you don’t learn the skills to manage your anxiety, the symptoms of anxiety usually don’t just go away on their own. It’s easier to treat anxiety sooner rather than later. So of course, I encourage you to work with an individual provider, and I know that the skills in the course below will help you too.

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