Anxiety Disorders:
Types and Treatments

Everyone deals with stress going about their day-to-day business. And, sometimes that stress can bring about anxiety — a healthy stress response.

However, anxiety shouldn’t be an excessive or re-occurring problem. When it is, treatment can help.

Man with anxiety in hallway getting a breather

Anxiety Disorders:
Types and Treatments

Everyone deals with stress going about their day-to-day business. And, sometimes that stress can bring about anxiety — a healthy stress response.

However, anxiety shouldn’t be an excessive or re-occurring problem.

Table of Contents

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a general term for feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear. Experiencing anxiety from time to time is normal, whether we’re waiting to hear if we got a job we applied for or are preparing for a major surgery.

When these emotions start to impact your daily life activities, anxiety can become a serious issue. People with anxiety disorders experience frequent, intense, and invasive feelings of worry and fear that are difficult to control and often out of proportion to the actual presence of danger.

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions among American adults. In fact, 19.1% of U.S. adults have had an anxiety disorder within the past year, with about 50% of these patients suffering from moderate to serious impairment as a result of their conditions 1.

19.1% of U.S. adults have had an anxiety disorder within the past year, with about 50% of these patients suffering from moderate to serious impairment as a result of their conditions.

If you believe you have an anxiety disorder, help is available. You can manage your anxiety symptoms with a combination of medication, therapy, and other psychiatric interventions.

Early Warning Signs

Signs of an anxiety disorder often begin in childhood or adolescence, progressing to adulthood as time goes on. However, anyone can develop an anxiety disorder at any point in their lives.

Some early warning signs of anxiety include:
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as skin-picking or hair-pulling
  • Fears of being alone
  • Fears of being separated from a primary caregiver
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Agitation, irritability, or tantrums
  • Unexplained stomach pain or nausea
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Avoidance of social contact
  • Excessive worry about mundane situations
  • Development of specific phobias

Not all of these symptoms will occur in every person with an anxiety disorder, and you may experience a different set of symptoms. If you experience excessive, persistent worry that interferes with your daily life, you likely have an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety symptoms vary from person to person based on a number of factors, such as what type of anxiety disorder you are suffering from and the root causes of the anxiety. However, these conditions do have a number of symptoms in common.

If you have anxiety, you may experience:
  • Intense fear, nervousness, and tension
  • A sense of impending doom or danger
  • Hyperventilation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Trembling and sweating
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • The urge to avoid anxiety-inducing situations

This list is not intended to diagnose any condition. If you believe you have an anxiety disorder, contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

Types of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders come in many different forms. Speaking to your doctor will help you determine which type of anxiety is affecting you and the best way you can manage your symptoms.

Read below to learn about the different Anxiety Disorders. Alternatively, you can watch this video by Psych Hub Education for a brief animated overview of them:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when you experience excessive, persistent, and uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with your daily activities. GAD may lead to a variety of physical and psychological symptoms 2.

With GAD, you may experience:
  • Disproportionate, persistent worry
  • Perceiving benign situations as threatening
  • Indecisiveness and overthinking
  • Over planning for worst-case scenarios
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling restless or easily startled
Physical symptoms of GAD may include:
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Excessive fatigue

Panic Disorder

A panic disorder is a condition marked by recurrent panic attacks, which occur when you have sudden feelings of intense fear. This intense fear manifests into physical symptoms, like hyperventilation or uncontrollable shaking.

Many people experience one or two of these episodes in their lifetime. If you experience multiple panic attacks and live in fear of another attack happening, you may have a panic disorder 3.

Symptoms of panic attacks include:
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Feelings of fear, dread, or doom
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a disorder characterized by intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment in social situations.

While it’s normal to feel some nervousness while in a social setting, social anxiety causes you to avoid situations that trigger this reaction. This disorder can disrupt your ability to work, go to school, or develop relationships with other people 4.

Symptoms of social anxiety may include:
  • Pervasive worry about humiliating or embarrassing yourself
  • Feelings of intense anxiety before and/or during a social event
  • Avoiding situations where you are the center of attention
  • Fear that others may notice or perceive your anxiety
  • Spending time after a social situation criticizing your behavior
  • Avoiding activities or people out of fear of embarrassment

Specific Phobias

One early warning sign of anxiety is the development of phobias, or extreme fear and aversion to certain objects or situations. Phobias can develop at any time, and may involve subjects that do not pose significant danger 5.

Common phobia subjects include, but are not limited to:
  • Situations, such as flying in an airplane
  • Animals and insects
  • Blood, injuries, and needles
  • Natural occurrences, such as thunderstorms

Phobias cause you to avoid situations or media where you may come into contact with the subject of your phobia. Each phobia has a specific name, and symptoms may vary from person to person.

These symptoms may include:
  • Intense fear, anxiety, or dread when encountering the phobia
  • Feeling unable to control feelings of fear
  • Difficulty functioning due to the phobia
  • Rapid heartbeat, chest tightness, and shortness of breath
  • Feeling nauseous or dizzy
  • Actively avoiding the subject of the phobia

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common condition in infants and toddlers, who usually grow out of separation anxiety by the time they begin school. However, prolonged separation anxiety or the development of this condition in teenagers or adults may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder 6.

Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include:
  • Excessive and persistent worry about losing loved ones
  • Recurrent anxiety when thinking about leaving home or loved ones
  • Refusing to leave home due to separation fears
  • Nightmares about separation
  • Discomfort staying home alone or without a loved one
  • Refusing to sleep away from home
  • Anxiety that something bad will happen during separation
  • Physical symptoms before an upcoming separation, such as headaches or stomach pain

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, and symptoms can appear at any stage of a person’s life. However, the presence of certain factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

  • History of trauma: Adults and children with a history of past abuse, violence, or traumatic experiences may have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder than those who do not 7.
  • Ongoing stress: The build-up of stress over time, or experiencing major sources of stress all at once, can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. This stress may be caused by many factors, such as relationship issues, financial problems, a medical condition, or the death of a loved one 8.
  • Substance abuse: Misusing drugs or alcohol, or going through withdrawal, can cause or increase feelings of anxiety 9.
  • Existing mental health conditions: People with other mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, may also have a co-occurring anxiety disorder 10.
  • Genetic history: People who have blood relatives with an anxiety disorder, such as a parent or grandparent, have a higher risk of developing anxiety than others 11.

Causes of Anxiety

No one fully understands the exact cause of anxiety disorders, but many theories exist. Life experiences, such as a past trauma or current stressors, may aid in the development of anxiety. A family history of anxiety may also contribute to these conditions.

Medical Problems

Many people develop anxiety as a result of an underlying health condition. This is especially common in people who develop anxiety symptoms suddenly and unexpectedly, do not have a family history of anxiety or symptoms that begin in childhood, and do not avoid situations or triggers due to anxiety 12.

Medical conditions that may contribute to anxiety include:
  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal
  • Chronic pain
  • Diabetes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Asthma and other respiratory conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid problems
  • Tumors

The side effects of certain prescription drugs may also cause anxiety symptoms, such as cortisone, amphetamines, thyroid medication, and seizure drugs.

If you’re concerned that your anxiety is related to a medical condition, see your doctor as soon as possible.

External Stressors

Life experiences play a large role in the development of anxiety, since the ways we process and cope with these events contribute to our overall mental state 13. These may include traumatic events that happened in the past, as well as daily, ongoing stressors.

Traumatic life events are one of the largest contributors to anxiety and depression, followed by family history, income level, and education. Relationships and social well-being also play a role in the development of these conditions.

Not everyone who experiences a difficult event or a co-occurring stressor will develop a mental health condition. The presence of unhealthy coping mechanisms, a lack of mental health care, and pre-existing genetic histories may lead to anxiety disorders in some people, while others may not develop any symptoms at all.

Genetic History

Your genetic history may have an impact on your anxiety disorder risk. Having a blood relative with anxiety, such as a parent or a sibling, increases your chances of developing an anxiety disorder during your life.

Generalized anxiety disorder, for example, has a genetic inherit-ability of over 30% 14. GAD, panic disorder, and social anxiety are all linked to specific genes which may influence whether or not you develop these conditions.


Misusing drugs and alcohol can lead to higher rates of anxiety disorders, with impacts varying from substance to substance 15.

Depressants such a alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates impair your physical and emotional health, leading to excessive stress and symptoms of anxiety. In addition, withdrawal from these substances can lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

Stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine also increase feelings of anxiety, since these substances excessively stimulate the neurotransmitters in your brain. These substances may also exacerbate panic disorder symptoms.

Often, anxiety and substance abuse feed into one another. Abusing substances can make anxiety symptoms worse, and you may turn to substances to cope with the increasing anxiety. Without professional help, this behavior can become a vicious cycle.

If you are struggling with substance abuse or withdrawal, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Treatments for Anxiety

While the exact cause of anxiety is unclear, these disorders are completely manageable with the right support system. Many treatment options are available for people with anxiety disorders, from medication to therapy and self-care activities.


Many medications can relieve anxiety symptoms, and are an effective treatment option for patients who suffer from a number of disorders. Your doctor will prescribe your medication based on the type of anxiety you suffer from, the severity of your symptoms, and co-occurring conditions.

Common anxiety medications include:
  • Anti-anxiety drugs, including buspirone
  • Antidepressants that relieve anxiety symptoms, such as escitalopram
  • Short-term medication for symptom relief, like benzodiazepines and beta blockers

Each medication will come with its own set of side effects, possible complications, and benefits. Speak to your doctor to find the right treatment regimen for you.

Psychological Counseling

Psychotherapy is one of the most effective treatment options for people with anxiety. Through this program, you will visit with a licensed therapist and talk through your symptoms. Your therapist will help you better understand what you are experiencing and work with you to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

One type of psychological counseling for people with anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This short-term treatment option focuses on skill development, helping you manage your symptoms and restore your ability to re-engage in activities you may have avoided due to your anxiety disorder.

Psychological counseling can continue for as long as you may require treatment. To determine whether this treatment option is right for you, speak to a doctor.

Lifestyle Changes

The way we live can contribute to flare-ups of our anxiety symptoms. However, taking time to create a healthier lifestyle is proven to improve your mental well-being, along with your physical health.

Here are a few simple changes you can make:
  • Make time to exercise daily. Moving our bodies not only helps keep us healthy, but regular exercise promotes the release of anxiety-reducing endorphins, reduces stress, and may improve your mood 16.
  • Get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. The quality of our sleep directly correlates with our mood, and sleep deprivation can lead to worsening anxiety symptoms as well as harm to our physical health 17.
  • Unwind, relax, and destress with self-care activities. Schedule time to meditate, do yoga, journal, or engage in another healthy stress-busting activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes per day can make a difference 18.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. People with anxiety can turn to substances to cope with symptoms, which in turn can lead to addiction, worsening anxiety, and physical health problems.
  • Limit caffeine and quit smoking. Excess caffeine and nicotine can worsen anxiety symptoms, leading to jitteriness, nausea, and feeling on edge 19, 20.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. An eating pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein may help reduce anxiety symptoms, as well as increase your energy and improve your mood 21.

Residential Treatment

For some, anxiety symptoms can become so severe they require more intensive care. Residential treatment programs allow you to receive around-the-clock care for your anxiety in a safe, professional environment.

During a residential treatment program, you may engage in a number of therapies and activities designed to help you understand and manage your anxiety symptoms.

These therapies may include:
  • CBT sessions
  • Group therapy
  • Medication counseling
  • Guided meditation
  • Exposure therapy
  • Stress reduction strategies
  • Trauma awareness and recovery
  • Disorder-specific therapies

Different residential programs offer unique amenities, treatment regimens, and specialized areas of care. They may operate out of a hospital or a private, medically-licensed facility.


Anxiety disorders cannot be prevented, and the only way to manage and control your symptoms is by seeking professional help.

However, there are certain actions you can take to decrease the severity and frequency of your symptoms:
  • Reduce your caffeine consumption.
  • Prioritize daily exercise, a regular sleep schedule, and a healthy diet.
  • Keep a journal to track your mood, symptoms, and triggers.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and avoid drugs and tobacco.
  • Take time each day for self-care activities.
  • Learn deep-breathing exercises to use during stressful situations.
  • Seek professional support after experiencing a traumatic event to avoid the onset of an anxiety disorder.

Although they may help some, these prevention tips won’t work for everyone. Seeking professional help allows you to create a treatment regimen that’s right for you and your condition. In addition, professional treatment allows you to develop skills and strategies you can use throughout your life to manage and reduce your anxiety symptoms.

If you believe you have an anxiety disorder and your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.