Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. If you are giving a speech or you have a job interview coming up, you might feel your pulse speed up a bit and your palms might feel sweaty. You can also feel anxiety if you are in a scary situation; for example, if you narrowly miss hitting another car on your drive home, you might find afterward that you feel shaky and are breathing more quickly.
These types of anxiety are simply a reaction to the adrenaline in your system that is released when you’re under stress, and the symptoms go away quickly. This is normal and very common, and it happens to everyone on occasion.
When you have an anxiety disorder or condition, however, you might notice that you are feeling this way during times that most people wouldn’t feel that surge of adrenaline or its associated symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety
First, it’s helpful to know the different symptoms of anxiety. Any of these can also have physical causes, so if you’re experiencing them and you don’t know whether or not they’re signs of anxiety, a physical exam is warranted to rule out any physical illnesses.
- Excessive worrying. Are you worrying about situations that haven’t happened and are not likely to happen? Do you have fears that others would call irrational? These are signs of a possible anxiety disorder.
- Pounding heart. Usually a reaction to excess adrenaline in the system, a pounding heart can cause a fluttering feeling in the chest, thumping, and a feeling of pounding in the head.
- Shortness of breath. When this is related to anxiety, it is sometimes caused by hyperventilation. Of course, if you have any respiratory conditions or you’re also experiencing a fever, cough, or other physical symptoms, then you need to have this checked by a doctor right away.
- Trembling or shaking. Trembling for a short time after a rare scary or stressful situation is normal; if you’re trembling often or when you’re not being affected by a scary situation, this is something to get checked.
- Trouble sleeping. Is your mind racing at night so you can’t fall asleep? There are various sleep disorders, but this one might be caused by anxiety.
- Muscle aches. If you find yourself tensing up your neck and shoulder muscles in response to stress and anxiety, you might be sore later. You might also experience headaches, backaches, or other muscle tension.
Types of Anxiety
Transient anxiety that goes away after a stressful situation is over is not usually something that needs treatment unless it is lasting for a while and affecting your day-to-day life. The following types of anxiety, however, can and should be treated.
Generalized anxiety disorder
This is uncontrolled excessive worry. You might worry about anything and everything, from your health to your child’s safety to your job to your marriage to what your next door neighbor is doing or thinking. You might worry about the past or about the future. With GAD, the worry tends to creep into every area of your life.
Frequent panic attacks, where you suddenly start hyperventilating, sweating, experiencing a rapid heartbeat, and feeling an impending sense of doom, can be a sign of panic disorder.
This is often the result of panic disorder. If you have a panic attack in a public area, you might be worried that it will happen again and, over time, you might be unable to leave your home because you are so afraid of having another panic attack. Agoraphobia can also occur in the absence of panic disorder, but often they are linked.
A phobia is a fear, and when that fear is irrational and excessive or makes a negative impact on your life, then it can and should be treated. For example, being mildly afraid of snakes and saying “yuck” and going in the opposite direction if you see one is common and not a problem. Being so afraid that you refuse to leave the house or that you scream and faint if you see a snake across the yard is a phobia that is impacting your life.
This is anxiety that revolves around being judged or embarrassed in front of others. Many people get nervous when they have to speak in public, but someone with social anxiety might be trembling when they need to speak to others about anything. Others might become physically ill at the thought of having to address a group of people.
Separation anxiety disorder
Young children naturally have some separation anxiety and they will sometimes cry or become distressed when their parents leave them with a babysitter, for example. Older children and adults who are afraid to be alone or who worry excessively about something bad happening to their parents or partners when not in their presence may have separation anxiety disorder.
This is a type of anxiety that involves both obsessive thought and compulsive behavior. One example is the obsessive thought that carrying germs on one’s hands will lead to the whole family getting sick. The compulsion that follows might be scrubbing the hands. While there’s nothing wrong with washing your hands, doing so compulsively is not only a sign of OCD but also mentally and physically distressing.
There are treatments available for all of these types of anxiety. They range from simple lifestyle changes like getting more sleep and making time for exercise each day to cognitive behavioral therapy, other forms of psychotherapy, and medications.
Often, a combination of treatments is used. For example, if you have panic disorder, you might attend therapy and also have anti-anxiety medications to use when you feel the symptoms of panic starting. Alternatively, you might have medications that you use on a daily basis to keep your symptoms under control. Someone else might find that exercising daily and attending therapy is enough to keep their generalized anxiety under control. Work with your mental health professionals to find what works best for you and your particular condition.