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Anxiety disorders: An overview of the 5 major types

Anxiety disorders: An overview of the 5 major types
Reviewed by:
Authored by:
Austin Lin, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
July 21, 2019
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"You're giving me anxiety" has been a common phrase to hear. There is a reason for that: anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults or 18.1% of the population.  There are five major types of anxiety and we'll give you an overview of each one below.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension. These symptoms occur even when there is nothing or little to provoke them. This disorder affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the population. GAD affects women twice as much as men and often co-occurs with major depression.  Diagnoses occurs when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months. Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

The exact cause of GAD is unknown, however there is evidence that biological factors, life experiences, and family background can play a role. Although only 43.2% of individuals with this anxiety disorder are receiving treatment, there is a variety of treatment options. These treatment options include CBT and other types of therapy as well as various medication options.

Panic disorder (PD)

PD is diagnosed in individuals who experience spontaneous panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Roughly 2.7% of Americans experience this disorder and it is more common in women than men. This disorder can interfere with daily life by forcing individuals to avoid experiences as well as miss work. There are many symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack such as:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

Panic disorders are highly responsive to treatment. As a result, there are also several skills you can learn to manage attacks when you experience them.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

People with OCD experience obsessions and compulsions. Compulsions are behaviors that people feel they need to perform to ease distress or anxiety. However, these behaviors can be visible actions or they can be mental behaviors that are not immediately noticeable. Obsessions are unwanted or intrusive thoughts, images, or urges. Some obsessions are more common than others but they may include concerns about cleanliness, aggressive impulses or the need for symmetry. Although OCD is not as common as PD or GAD, it still effects 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in America. Some of the symptoms of OCD include:

  • Eating rituals
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Extreme separation anxiety
  • Unusual secretiveness
  • Temper tantrums

There is more than one option to treat OCD including psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and exposure and response prevention (a type of CBT). Psychiatric medications can also help control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD.

Social anxiety disorder

The defining feature of this disorder is the intense anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated or rejected in a social situation. Although many individuals with social anxiety disorder exhibit shyness, it is important to note that this disorder is not just shyness. As a result of these fears, those affected by SAD avoid social or performance situations. This disorder can also manifest itself as strong physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, sweating and nausea.

Social anxiety disorder or SAD affects 15 million Americans or 6.8% of the population. The average age of onset for this disorder is during the teenage years. Men and women are equally affected by this disorder. According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or situation where serious physical harm was threatened or occurred. Some individuals are able to recover from these events but those with PTSD can suffer from depression or anxiety months and years afterwards. Events that could trigger PTSD include assaults, disasters, accidents, or military combat. Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing PTSD.

Like the other anxiety disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder likewise has various treatment methods. Some of the effective options are psychotherapy treatment. Prolonged Exposure is a type of treatment that teaches you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) teaches you to re-frame negative thoughts about the trauma. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) helps you process and make sense of your trauma.

In conclusion, as with all of these disorders, it is important to consult with a professional to help determine the best treatment plan for you.

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a local, accessible and complete mental healthcare solution that accepts insurance. We close the gap for individuals who want to get better, but feel that mental health care has been challenging to navigate up until this point and want a more convenient way to take the first step. Talkiatry takes the traditional local mental health visit and combines it with technology, scale, efficiency, and design to provide the best possible environment for healing.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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