Understanding Anxiety

Different Types of Anxiety

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Experiencing intense anxiety in day-to-day activities.

Some experience long-term anxiety across a whole range of situations and this interferes with their life. This is generalised anxiety disorder. The main symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder are overwhelming, unfounded anxiety and worry (about things that may go wrong or one’s inability to cope) accompanied by multiple physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety or tension occurring more days than not, for at least six months. People with generalised anxiety disorder worry excessively about health, money, family and work even when there are no signs of problems. The anxiety appears difficult to control. Other characteristics can include an intolerance of uncertainty, belief that worry is a helpful way to deal with problems and poor problem-solving. Generalised anxiety disorder can make it difficult for people to concentrate at work or whilst studying, function at home and generally get on with their lives.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Also commonly referred to as social phobia.

This involves extreme discomfort or fear in a variety of social situations. Commonly feared situations include speaking or eating in public, dating and social events. These are situations where public scrutiny may occur, usually with the fear of behaving in a way that is embarrassing or humiliating. The key fear is that others will think badly of the person. For a diagnosis to take place, the anxiety about social situations must persist for 6 months or longer. Social anxiety disorder often develops in shy children as they move into adolescence.

Specific Phobias

The fear of a specific thing or situation.

A person with a phobia avoids or restricts activities because of fear. This fear appears persistent, excessive and unreasonable. Specific phobias are common and are less disabling than other anxiety disorders. The person may have an unreasonably strong fear of specific places, events or objects and often avoid these completely. The most common fears are of spiders, insects, mice, snakes and heights. Other feared objects or situations include an animal, blood, injections, storms, driving, flying or enclosed places.

Panic Disorder

Experiencing recurrent panic attacks.

Some people have short periods of extreme anxiety called a panic attack. A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense apprehension, fear or terror. These attacks can begin suddenly and develop rapidly. This intense fear is inappropriate for the circumstances in which it is occurring. Other symptoms, many of which can appear similar to those of a heart attack, can include racing heart, sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, feeling detached from oneself and fears of losing control. Once a person has had one of these attacks, they often fear another attack and may avoid places where attacks have occurred.

It is important to distinguish between a panic attack and a panic disorder. Having a panic attack does not necessarily mean that a person will develop panic disorders. A person with panic disorder experiences recurring panic attacks and, for at least one month, is persistently worried about possible future panic attacks and the possible consequences of panic attacks, such as a fear of losing control or having a heart attack. Some people may develop panic disorder after only a few panic attacks, while others may experience many panic attacks. Other people may experience many panic attacks without developing a panic disorder. Some people with panic disorder also develop agoraphobia where they avoid places where they fear they may have a panic attack.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Certain thoughts and actions causing severe distress and anxiety.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder often begins in adolescence and may be a lifelong illness. Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours accompany feelings of anxiety. Obsessive thoughts are recurrent thoughts, impulses and images that are experienced as intrusive, unwanted and inappropriate, and cause marked anxiety. Although not everyone experiences OCD the same way, the most common obsessive thoughts are about fears of contamination, symmetry and exactness, safety, sexual impulses, aggressive impulses and religious preoccupation.

Compulsive behaviours are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession in order to reduce anxiety. Common compulsions include washing, checking, repeating, ordering, counting, hoarding, or touching things over and over.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Caused following actual or perceived threat to life.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can occur after a person is exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. Examples of trauma include involvement in war, accidents, assault (including physical or sexual assault, mugging or robbery, or family violence), and witnessing something terrible happen. Mass traumatic events include terrorist attacks, mass shootings, warfare and severe weather events (cyclones and tsunamis).

A major symptom is re-experiencing the trauma. This may be in the form of recurrent dreams of the event, flashbacks, intrusive memories or unrest in situations that bring back memories of the original trauma. There is usually avoidance behaviour, such as persistent avoidance of things associated with the event, which may continue for months or years.Persistent symptoms of increased emotional distress also occur (constant watchfulness, jumpiness, being easily startled, irritability, aggression, insomnia). The person may also overly blame themselves or others, show reduced interest in others and the outside world, and may not be able to fully remember the traumatic event.

It is common for people to feel greatly distressed immediately following a traumatic event. Whilst most people bounce back from the event, some are more heavily impacted. This depends on a number of factors such as the nature of the event, if people were hurt and who the agressor was, in case of violence. If their distress lasts longer than a month, they might be developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Only some people who are distressed following a traumatic event will go on to develop a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.