Everybody experiences nervousness from time to time—it’s simply a part of being human. Think about the last time you gave a presentation, had a really tight work deadline, or even went on a first date. You probably felt nervous about any of those situations, right? That’s to be expected because stress is a necessary response that has kept people vigilant for millions of years. (Thankfully, you probably don’t need to be worried about being attacked by a wild animal, like our ancestors who had slightly different stressors.)
Anxiety, on the other hand, is excessive worry that doesn’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. So, for us, that means we have may have persistent worries or fear about a potential event or maybe nothing we can pinpoint. If our ancestors worried about the potential of an animal attack (not just stress in the face of one), they, indeed, experienced anxiety too.
“Lots of people have worries in general, but they can function and it doesn’t interfere with their work or school or relationships,” Jessi Gold, M.D., assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis, tells SELF. “But it’s not problematic because it’s not crossing a threshold in which it’s really interfering with your life.”
However, many people do experience a type of anxiety that rears its ugly head daily, spurring emotional and physical symptoms that can be really tough to cope with. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults in the United States. Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias are just a few of the common types of anxiety disorders that people live with every day, and they each have a unique set of symptoms that can impact a person differently.
So, how can you tell if your everyday worry is something more serious? Ahead, experts explain how to familiarize yourself with the different types of anxiety disorders, what to know about treatment, and when to consider seeking help—because you shouldn’t have to just live with it.
Types of anxiety disorders
All anxiety disorders cause chronic and persistent forms of distress and discomfort, which can include emotional and physical symptoms, but they differ from one another based on the specific trigger of the anxiety, Jenny C. Yip, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and owner of the Renewed Freedom Center in Los Angeles, tells SELF.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobia disorders are among the most common types of anxiety disorders. Other common anxiety disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Let’s dive into what each of these types of anxiety disorders looks like.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes excessive worry and anxiety that is persistent for at least six months and is significant enough to disrupt a person’s normal ability to function, meaning it gets in the way of doing everyday things like meeting a friend for dinner, finishing work tasks, or even just driving to pick up the kids from school. While we all inevitably experience anxiety in our day-to-day lives, people with GAD experience this anxiety much more severely and frequently than others.
If you have GAD, you might experience the following symptoms, per the NIMH:
- Constant or frequent worry or distress
- Underlying feelings of restlessness or being on-edge
- Increased fatigue
- Trouble concentrating or focusing
- Increased irritability or anger
- Tight muscles and muscle soreness
- Trouble sleeping or periods of insomnia
Feeling stress from work, school, finances, socializing, and other everyday situations can all be triggers for excessive anxiety in people with GAD.
Panic disorder develops when a person consistently experiences panic attacks, which are periods of sudden, intense feelings of terror and anxiety. It can feel like an overwhelming sense of dread or—extra scary in some cases—like you are physically having a heart attack. These panic attacks can appear out of the blue or can have specific triggers, such as traumatic memories, stress-inducing situations, or an escalated conflict with a loved one.
According to the NIMH, panic attacks may cause you to experience the following symptoms: