Anxiety Disorder Types

anxious teen

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health recognizes the following five anxiety disorder types.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder type, characterized by a non-specific but excessive worry or concern regarding everyday issues that don't cause much anxiety in others. The anxiety over these seemingly small things is enough in GAD to prevent people from going about their day, and they find themselves always expecting things to go badly.

This disorder develops very slowly, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health: "People with GAD may visit a doctor many times before they find out they have this disorder. They ask their doctors to help them with headaches or trouble falling asleep, which can be symptoms of GAD but they don't always get the help they need right away. It may take doctors some time to be sure that a person has GAD instead of something else."

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by repetitive thoughts and/or actions driven by an overwhelming compulsion. People with OCD might double-check a lock on the front door thirty-one times, for example. This behavior is regarded as ritualistic, and people with the disorder are unable to resist the compulsion. Eventually it can become very upsetting and can get in the way of everyday life.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that most people with OCD have it from the childhood or teen years onward and tend to be diagnosed around age 19. Furthermore, the symptoms can come and go at different times.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by frequent and sudden attacks of panic that can last for several minutes or longer. These attacks often have to do with a fear of some traumatic event that has no basis in reality. While the experience is psychological, the person will likely experience physiological symptoms as well, including sweating, trembling, and even the feeling of a heart attack.

They can strike at any time, leaving people with panic disorder worried about when the next panic attack might occur. Panic disorder has the ability to interfere with a person's daily life. It often begins in the late teen years. However, experiencing a panic attack does not equate to having panic disorder; one can experience a panic attack and not be diagnosed with the disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that occurs after one experiences a traumatic event, either as a witness or a participant. Flashbacks, depression, and avoidant behaviors are common in the aftermath.

The fear that is created by the event can, according to the National Institute of Mental Health: "trigger many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This 'fight-or-flight' response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger."

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is an intense fear of being judged by other people and of being embarrassed in public. It reaches the status of a disorder when the fear is so great that it interferes with one's ability to lead a normal life.

Typically, people with SAD might find themselves deeply worried over an upcoming event that has them under scrutiny, and their worry can begin weeks in advance. They prefer not to carry out the simplest of tasks in front of others for fear of failure or ridicule. This extends to something as simple as using a public restroom. Typically people with SAD know that their fears are unfounded but cannot control them regardless of that knowledge.

SAD often develops when a person is young, and if the person doesn't receive treatment, the disorder can continue for the remainder of his or her life.

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