Your heart and mind race as you consider worst-case scenarios. You try to think about something else – anything else – but your body enters a state of fight-or-flight. Even everyday situations like driving or talking on the phone can become terrifying. This is how anxiety feels for millions of people.
Types of anxiety
Anxiety is very common, but not all anxiety is the same. How anxiety feels can depend on what specifically triggers it. Here are six types:
Generalized anxiety disorder
Abbreviated as GAD, generalized anxiety disorder comes with persistent worrying. Sometimes very small things or nothing at all can trigger symptoms. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme-or-reason about what causes it. People with GAD are worriers and tend to focus on what could go wrong with their finances, family, health, and so on. It can be very difficult to move on from the fear and relax.
With this type of anxiety, a person experiences intense episodes of fear known as panic attacks. Even when there isn’t danger, the body and mind react as if there is. Panic disorder is marked by symptoms like chest pain, stomach pain, dizziness, sweating, and shortness of breath. The attacks are often unexpected and occur regularly. Sometimes, the fear and symptoms are so strong, it can seem like a person is having a heart attack.
OCD is a distinct form of anxiety disorder. It’s defined by persistent, unwanted thoughts known as “obsessions.” Repetitive behaviors called “compulsions” often come with OCD, as well. These compulsions can include hand-washing, checking, cleaning, and more. People with OCD engage in compulsions because they hope it will make the obsessive thoughts go away. As an example, someone with OCD might start worrying that they forget to lock their door. They’re scared someone will break in and hurt their pet. The compulsion is to keep checking to make sure the door is locked.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD usually develops after a traumatic event or series of events. It can be something that directly affected the person with PTSD or something they witnessed. They could have been physically harmed or threatened. Things like war, assaults, natural disasters, and accidents can cause PTSD to develop. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness around triggers, and heightened anger and irritability.
Also known as social anxiety disorder, this type of anxiety centers on a strong fear of social situations. All social situations or specific ones like speaking in public and eating with others can trigger anxiety. Symptoms include sweating, a racing heart, dizziness, chest pain, and stomach pain.
Someone who doesn’t experience persistent, broad anxiety but does get anxious around specific objects or situations has a “simple phobia.” When exposed to the trigger, they feel symptoms like sweating, dizziness, and intense fear. Depending on the degree of anxiety, simple phobias can make life challenging. Some of the most common simple phobias include fear of spiders, fear of driving, and fear of heights.
How anxiety feels and what triggers it varies from person to person. The best thing to do is to seek out the advice of a medical professional. Medication, therapy, and coping strategies like meditation are treatment options. Lifestyle changes like healthier eating and exercise can also help. Because anxiety is complex, you should always talk to a doctor or psychiatrist before making changes.
The biological reasons for anxiety aren’t clear, but there could be a connection between anxiety disorders and gut health.