There are many types of anxiety diagnoses, each with its unique characteristics. Recognising these can be the first step towards seeking support and finding coping strategies.
Generalised anxiety disorder (often abbreviated to GAD, anxiety or anxiety disorder) is when people worry about a number of things across a wide range of situations and issues (not just one event) and this impacts their daily life. These symptoms are present for most days for 6 months or more.
Phobias are extreme fears that can be specific to a situation, place or object. They can make people feel a deep sense of panic and dread. These fears can be overwhelming and debilitating.
Some common phobias have specific names. For example, arachnophobia is an intense fear of spiders and claustrophobia is a phobia of being closed in or being stuck in a place that you can’t escape from.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is when someone has unwanted, intrusive and persistent thoughts (obsessions) and feels compelled to do specific mental or physical actions to reduce their anxiety or to get rid of those thoughts (compulsions). Having some intrusive thoughts (such as worrying you forgot to lock your car) is very common, but people with OCD have obsessions and compulsions that take up a lot of time and energy and can be very upsetting.
For example, someone may be convinced that if they don’t flick a light switch a specific number of times (compulsion) something horrible will happen (obsession).
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to a highly stressful event or experience where a person feels unsafe or threatened. This fear can be related to an unusual experience such as exposure to war, a natural disaster or abuse.
People with PTSD may have flashbacks or nightmares or feel frightened when they see or hear things that remind them of the trauma. It can also be hard to concentrate and may include feelings of guilt, anger, fear or shame.
Panic attacks are intense episodes of anxiety that come with sudden physical symptoms. These can include palpitations or a pounding heart, sweating, tension in your chest making it hard to breathe (hyperventilating) and feeling dizzy or nauseous.
A panic attack can be overwhelming but generally does not last long – although when it is happening, it can feel much longer. Most attacks will peak within 10 minutes and fade away, but they can be shorter or last longer.