Anxiety can present itself in many different ways. Anxiety affects everyone differently and you may recognise that you have the symptoms of more than one type, or you may even find you have a combination of anxiety and depression.
The most common forms of anxiety are:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Health Anxiety Disorder
- Sleep Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Selective Mutism
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Anxiety becomes a disorder if you are feeling intensely worried or fearful the majority of the time about a variety of situations, and you have been feeling this way in excess of 6 months. This is the most common form of anxiety and it may be triggered by everyday events and/or appear to be for no specific reason or event.
It can have an impact on your relationships, your ability to work or hold down employment, your energy levels, your concentration levels and your sleep.
GAD includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about a situation, perceived or real, that we “expect” will happen in the future.
The expectation of the event may or may not be based on a similar situation that has occurred in our past. Or it may be an expectation that we have created in our minds that is not necessarily realistic.
The fear and worry is often out of proportion to the anticipated event or circumstances, however, it feels very real to the person struggling with GAD.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder can often occur alongside other anxiety disorders, or depression.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder is an overwhelming feeling of intense fear and self-consciousness about being around other people. We may be worried that we will do something humiliating, or act in a certain way that is embarrassing when in front of others, and then draw unwanted attention to ourselves.
When we have Social Anxiety Disorder, we often avoid situations that involve other people, especially if we don’t know them well.
At the height of my own anxiety, I used to struggle to walk into a meeting room in my own office, even though I knew everyone there, and was able to talk to them all on the office floor. It was completely irrational, but I couldn't help it.
We often feel self conscious and anxious about what others will think of us. We have a persistent fear of being watched or judged. As a result, we find it difficult to walk into a crowded place, hold a conversation or even engage in small talk, and we tend to want to avoid social situations at all costs.
We may be able to recognise that our fears aren’t always logical, but it is difficult for us to control them.
Deipnophobia is a form of social anxiety. It is not so well known but it is very common in people with social anxiety. This is where we have a specific fear of eating in front of others, again because we fear we are being watched and will make a fool of ourselves.
Someone with a panic disorder will regularly suffer with unprovoked and intense feelings of panic combined with the physical sensations that may include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness and often chest pains.
Panic attacks can often feel as if we are having a heart attack. We also struggle to breathe and this exasperates our anxiety and panic.
Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant and as a result, we can become fearful of having another attack, which in turn increases our anxiety. Therefore, we may choose to avoid situations where panic attacks have previously occurred.
Feelings of fear or terror can intensify within seconds and reach a peak within minutes.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety is a form of anxiety that mostly impacts babies and young children but can also show up in teens and adults.
Separation anxiety can cause clinginess, nervousness or fear when a parent or loved one leaves them, or are out of sight.
Toddlers and young children worry that they will be lost from their parent or caregiver, or that something terrible will happen to their parents if they are not together.
Nearly all children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old have separation anxiety at some point and are clingy to some degree. But the symptoms of SAD are more severe.
Health Anxiety Disorder
Health Anxiety Disorder is when we have intense feelings of worry, fear and panic that are directly linked to a physical health condition, or we are excessively worried about becoming seriously ill in the future, even when we have no physical symptoms.
Someone struggling with health anxiety will frequently check their body for signs of illness, and often visit their GP regularly.
Health Anxiety, or hypochondria, is related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Sleep Anxiety Disorder
Sleep anxiety is the fear or worry about going to sleep. It can happen for many different reasons and the thought of lying awake worrying at night may leave us feeling anxious about getting into bed.
Sleep anxiety can affect adults, teenagers and children. We may be anxious about falling asleep in the first instance and/or not being able to go back to sleep should we wake up during the night.
Sleep disturbances are a very common symptom of general anxiety.Alternatively, we may be scared of having nightmares or night terrors, or we may believe something terrible will happen in the night, such as a burglary or a house fire.
Some people fear that they just won’t wake up in the morning.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Someone struggling with OCD will have excessive and recurrent anxious unwanted thoughts and will often try and relieve these obsessive thoughts by compulsively performing repeated rituals.
Someone with OCD may be able to recognise that the rituals are not logical, but will continue to use them as a coping strategy to manage their intrusive anxious thoughts.
Performing these rituals will usually only provide temporary relief, hence the perceived need for the compulsion to be repeated over and over, as they have a belief that their anxiety would escalate should they be unable to perform these rituals.
Examples may include repeatedly washing their hands if they are concerned about coming into contact with germs, or repeatedly checking their doors are locked if they are anxious about their safety.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD may occur after a particularly traumatic and terrifying event where some physical harm occurred, was witnessed or threatened.
PTSD was originally recognised in war veterans but it is now widely acknowledged that any event that is traumatic to the individual may trigger PTSD including violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, or accidents.
Someone with PTSD usually finds it difficult to relax, and will experience upsetting night terrors or flashbacks of the event.
If you have an intense fear of a specific object, place, situation, feeling or animal, then it may be a phobia.
People with phobias often have a heightened feeling of danger towards the situation or object, and this fear can even be triggered by a thought or image of the situation or object.
Someone with a phobia may recognise that their fear is excessive to the situation or object but are unable to control it.
I had a phobia of mice, I couldn't even say the word. I would be petrified of any sudden movement, such as a leaf or a small bird, as I was so fearful it was a mouse. I even ran out in front of a car on one occasion, and tried to get out of a moving train when I saw an image of a mouse.
It wasn't a conscious decision to run away, this is the "flight" response to fear and anxiety (part of the fight/flight/freeze response to perceived danger.
I knew I was being irrational, but I was too scared to face up to my fears. I knew this had to change when I realised my daughter was petrified of mice too. I was a learnt behaviour she had mirrored from me.
Only then, did I have the motivation to seek help.
You may wish to download the free Exposure Ladder worksheet to help you overcome your phobias.
We would often go to great lengths to avoid the thing that’s causing us anxiety.
This is a specific and common phobia when we fear and avoid places or situations that might cause panic or feelings of being trapped, and where we are unable to escape or get help if something were to go wrong.
This may result in someone avoiding travelling on public transport or being in a car, fear visiting supermarkets or shopping centres, or in extreme cases, avoid leaving home all together
This anxiety disorder tends to impact children more than adults and we have seen a dramatic increase since the isolation of the pandemic.
Selective mutism is when a child chooses not to speak in a specific situation, such as school or when around authority figures, when they are able to speak in an alternative environment.
While it usually starts in childhood, if left untreated, it can continue into adulthood.
Selective Mutism should not be confused with someone choosing not to speak in certain situations.
When someone is struggling with selective mutism, they are literally unable to speak and they go into a “freeze” response, which is part of the fight/flight/freeze anxious response to perceived danger.
Now that we understand more about the differences and similarities between stress and anxiety, we can explore effective ways to overcome and manage them.
- Identify your triggers for stress and anxiety as this helps you to address them more effectively.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, journaling or yoga to help calm your mind and body.
- Ensure you are getting enough sleep as this is an important time for your body and mind to repair and rejuvenate.
- Have a consistent bed time routine and ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature.
- Exercise as this will release the feel good hormone, endorphins, which can reverse the immediate effects of stress and anxiety.
- Speak to a trusted friend or family member as connecting with others is known to elevate our mood.
- Keep to a daily routine as this helps us use our time more efficiently and enables us to feel more in control of the situation that is challenging us.
- Organise your tasks and set small realistic goals that are achievable.
- Effective time management can also reduce the pressures of overwhelm and tight deadlines.
- Understand what is within or outside of your control. Download your free worksheet for the Circle of Control and Influence below.
Stress and anxiety are different emotional responses, and understanding their differences is the first step towards managing them effectively.
While stress can often be managed through self-help strategies, anxiety may require professional intervention.
Remember, you are not alone in your journey to better mental health, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
If You Need Further Support
If you need further support with your Mental Health, a trained Anxiety Specialist can prescribe a personalised plan to understand the root cause of worry and anxiety, as well as help develop healthy coping strategies that are focused around your individual needs.
Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of your overall well-being. Left unresolved, mental ill health can spiral out of control and have a significant impact on relationships, work, school and family life.
So if you want to take the next steps to have a happier life, click the link below and book a free no obligation consultation call.
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First Published 14th November 2021
Updated 10th February 2024