Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, each with their unique collections of symptoms. Some of the more common types include GAD, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and panic disorder. Certain phobias also fall under the category of anxiety disorder.

Only a mental health professional can diagnose these disorders. Gaining some understanding of them, however, is essential for those determining whether or not to seek out treatment.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder – The Basics

In Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the individual experiences intense and ongoing anxiety over the long term. While many experience ambient stress from time to time, those with GAD feel anxiety for as long as years at a time. This prevents them from engaging with their lives as fully as possible.

GAD can ebb and flow. Patients may have easier days without an excess of anxiety. Diagnostic criteria, however, states that those with GAD experiences more stressful days than not for a period no shorter than six months. If someone has serious anxiety but not within this timeframe, they may have a different but related disorder.

External events can cause people to develop GAD, including significant life changes or stressors. These things are called triggers, and people with GAD have outsized reactions to them.

The Environmental Triggers of GAD

Anything from a new job to a trauma can trigger GAD. These events may not affect others as profoundly; in the patient with GAD, they are deeply triggering events. The triggers for GAD vary widely from one patient to the next. Some GAD triggers include:

  • Problems at your job
  • Medical issues
  • Conflict in a relationship
  • Domestic abuse
  • School difficulties
  • Having too many responsibilities

Everyone may experience stress in light of these events. With GAD patients, the after effects continue and do not abate, interfering with daily life. Even when a trigger is eliminated, a patient with GAD may still experience the anxiety. Interventions such as therapy and medication can help those with GAD.

Biological Drivers of GAD

In some patients, there may be biological drivers behind GAD. According to some research, a genetic component may drive chemical imbalances in the brain that lead to GAD. In these cases, external triggers are not always necessarily present when the patient experiences anxiety.

GAD – Is it Common?

According to some estimates, as many as 6.8 million American adults experience GAD at any given time. It is important for those with GAD to know they are not alone. If you have GAD, you are anything but alone in your struggles. It is also important to note that less than 44 percent of patients with GAD seek out help. Since a third of those with GAD experience severe impairments, it is crucial that those who suspect they have GAD seek out help.

The Symptoms of GAD

The symptoms of GAD vary from patient to patient. There are some general mental, emotional, and physical symptoms commonly associated with the disorder.

The Mental and Emotional Symptoms of GAD:

  • Inability to make decisions
  • Feeling a constant sense of dread
  • Insomnia
  • Waking often during the night
  • Scaring easily
  • Constant worry that you can’t control
  • Faulty concentration

The Physical Symptoms of GAD:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Trembling
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Muscle tension and soreness with no known cause
  • Constant fatigue, even when sleep is sufficient
  • Digestive issues

The Symptoms of GAD in Children and Teens. Research is less clear on how often GAD occurs in children or teens. Symptoms for children and adolescents can include:

  • Avoiding social scene
  • Constant worries
  • Nausea
  • A fixation on doomsday events or major disasters
  • Approval seeking
  • Focus on perfectionism
  • Low self-esteem

Treating GAD 

Medications, individual therapy, or some combo of the two can help those living with GAD. Mental health professionals will first assess a patient to determine the triggers involved. When a chemical component is identified, medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or buspirone may be of great benefit to the patient. Therapeutic interventions that work well with GAD include CBT, aka Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In CBT, the patient learns new behaviors that define a more productive response to triggers.

Understanding a Panic Attack

A panic attack is an acute episode in which the individual experiences outsized stress in a situation that is otherwise non-life threatening. Panic attacks have distinct physical symptoms, including shallow breathing, excessive perspiration, and trembling. Those with GAD can experience panic attacks, but panic attacks can happen in those without GAD, as well.

Understanding Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a disorder in which an individual feels extreme terror at losing control. Situations the patient sees as “losing control” can be anything from leaving the home to taking public transportation. Someone with agoraphobia is distinct from someone who may be introverted. Introverts may prefer alone time to social interactions, but are capable of maintaining daily routines, whereas agoraphobes experience anxiety that interferes with daily life.