What Type of Anxiety Do You Suffer From?

Ruben Castaneda

Anxiety disorders are common -- and treatable.

If you live in the U.S. and are coping with an anxiety disorder, you have lots of company. "They're super-duper common," says Debra Kissen, executive director of the Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center in Chicago. She's also co-chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America's public education committee. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the U.S. annually, accounting for 18% of the population, according to the ADAA. That makes anxiety disorders the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting more people than depression. Having one condition doesn't preclude having the other. It's not uncommon for someone who has an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression, or vice versa, according to the ADAA. The good news is that anxiety disorders are typically highly treatable, Kissen says. "As uncomfortable as it is, an anxiety disorder is treatable and with some hard work can be moved past," Kissen says. Anxiety disorders are typically treated with cognitive behavioral therapy -- a type of talk therapy -- and medication. Anti-anxiety medications such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro are among the antidepressants health care professionals often prescribe to patients. These medications, known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are often prescribed in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, Kissen says. "If people (with anxiety) gradually face their fears and stop counterproductive safety-seeking behaviors, they can make excellent progress," she says. Here are six types of anxiety disorders:

1. Generalized anxiety disorder

If you're constantly worrying that disaster could strike every aspect of your life, you may well be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, says Dr. Dale A. Peeples, a psychiatrist and an associate professor at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia. People with generalized anxiety disorder "worry about their finances, their health, their family's health, work and school," he says. "When they really confront themselves about all the worries, they are able to see that it's a little overblown and irrational, but they can't get their mind to stop thinking about all the worst-case scenarios." This can lead to symptoms such as irritability, headaches and stomach discomfort. GAD affects nearly 7 million adults in the U.S., or more than 3% of the population, according to the ADAA.

2. Panic disorder

People who suffer from panic attacks are overcome with an overwhelming sense of fear, in which "the body's fight-or-flight system kicks in just like it would if you were being chased by a bear," Peeples says. "Your heart races, you start hyperventilating, your vision narrows, you get shaky and it feels like the world is coming to an end. It's your body's natural defense system, but when your body goes into that mode and there really isn't something to flee from, it just leaves you terrified." Sometimes panic appears with no apparent trigger; sometimes it's prompted by a specific stressor or phobia, he says. Some panic attacks are so intense that people suffering from them end up in the emergency room.

3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Someone suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder would have obsessions about ordinary events and compulsions to behave in certain ways, Peeples says. For example, someone may be obsessed with whether he or she left the stove on at home, despite having a clear memory of turning it off. A classic example of compulsive behavior would be someone who washes his or her hands multiple times a day out of excessive fear of germs, Peeples says.

4. Social anxiety disorder

Previously known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder is characterized by dread of social situations because of irrational fears of humiliation, embarrassment or rejection, says Dr. Diana Samuel, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. "Someone with social anxiety may avoid social situations or endure them with great angst. This in turn may affect not only their social life, but also their professional or academic life, such as by not participating in a classroom discussion or a team project."

5. Specific phobias

Many people have trepidation about flying or undergoing an MRI, but most overcome their discomfort and get on that plane or into that tube, Kissen says. Specific phobias can affect a person's ability to live his or her daily life, Kissen says. "(A phobia) causes moderate to severe distress and impacts a person's ability to function," Kissen says. "Someone could have a fear of spiders, and that's fine if they don't live near spiders. But if they avoid going to parks or taking their kids to baseball games to avoid spiders, then it's affecting their functioning."

According to the ADAA, specific phobias often focus on:

-- Animals.

-- Insects.

-- Germs.

-- Heights.

-- Thunder.

-- Driving.

-- Flying.

-- Public transportation.

-- Dental or medical procedures.

-- Elevators.

6. Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is similar to specific phobias, but broader in that it encompasses fear of leaving one's home and going beyond what one considers a "safe zone," Kissen says. Among the places people with agoraphobia might avoid are shopping malls, public transportation, open spaces like parking lots or enclosed spaces like movie theaters, according to the ADAA. Agoraphobia disproportionately affects women. People with panic disorder are at a higher risk for agoraphobia; approximately 1 in 3 people with panic disorder will develop agoraphobia, the ADAA says.

To recap, here are six types of anxiety disorders.

-- Generalized anxiety disorder.

-- Panic disorder.

-- Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

-- Social anxiety disorder.

-- Specific phobias.

-- Agoraphobia.