Anxiety is an everyday fact of life for many people.
Though, it may surprise you to know that there are actually different forms of anxiety which manifest through a great variety of symptoms.
If you have been struggling with persistent anxious thoughts, panic attacks, unexplained phobias and fears, or other feelings of worry, how can you know which type of anxiety they may be connected to? And what can you do to manage these symptoms?
Consider the following five forms of anxiety.
1. Generalized Anxiety
Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety. It typically includes persistent feelings of anxiousness and tension. Symptoms may include exaggerated and excessive worries and racing thoughts, often with little or no outward cause.
People with generalized anxiety may frequently (and vividly) imagine the worst possible outcome in every situation. In reality, these “worst-case scenarios” are extremely unlikely to occur. But the "what ifs" and uncertainties of life usually cause someone struggling with general anxiety to constantly feel insecure.
2. Obsessive Compulsiveness
People with this form of anxiety generally have frequent, unwanted, obsessive thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviors. These behaviors are called compulsions. Compulsive behaviors can include anything from incessant hand washing to counting things.
Someone who struggles with obsessive compulsiveness may believe (perhaps subconsciously) that performing these "rituals" will prevent their compulsive thoughts from coming back. But evidence shows that this is not the case. Performing the repetitive behavior only reinforces them in the brain, making them more likely to keep recurring.
Anxiety particularly comes into play when a person is unable to perform a certain ritual. For example, anxious feelings may be linked to a specific outcome that may occur if the ritual is not performed, such as: “If I do not wash my hands, I will contract a viral disease and die.”
3. Phobia-Related Anxiety
A person struggling with this form of anxiety may function well in other aspects of life but feels unexplained fear that is limited to certain situations, locations, or objects. For example, at work, they may already be fearful of the worst possible outcome, such as losing their job, before the workday has even begun. Generally, the fear they have is completely disproportionate to the actual possibility of the dreaded result occurring.
One of the most common, and at the same time most crippling, symptoms of phobia-related anxiety are panic attacks. These intense reactions of anxiety can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and an overall sense of impending doom.
4. Post-Traumatic Stress
Post-traumatic stress can develop after a person has been exposed to a traumatic event, especially one that was life-threatening. This event could be a car accident, natural disaster, military combat, or physical assault. This form of anxiety is common in war veterans but is not limited just to that demographic.
Anxiety symptoms of post-traumatic stress can begin occurring within a few months of the traumatic event or take years to develop. Eventually, the constant worry of something terrible happening again can become paralyzing. For some, the fear can be so strong that they are unable to function in life and begin isolating themselves.
5. Social Anxiety
People with social phobias have an overwhelming sense of self-consciousness that takes over their ability to enjoy themselves or relax in public situations. However, this form of anxiety is not limited to situations in which any person would feel stressed, such as making a presentation at work or having an audition. Social anxiety can occur in any kind of social situation, such as eating or drinking in front of other people.
The fear of embarrassment or humiliation can be so strong that some people may refuse to leave their homes. Other people with this disorder may go out of their way to avoid interacting with others, even in casual situations, such as checking out groceries or interacting with store clerks.
How to Manage Your Anxiety Symptoms
While each form of anxiety has some specific symptoms, they also share many symptoms in common. Therefore, as a general approach to managing whichever form of anxiety you are struggling with, you can start by addressing these common aspects. How?
Here are seven tips to begin with:
Recognize and accept your struggle with anxiety – It is important to understand that your anxious thoughts and feelings are not reality. They will pass! And if you are willing to sit with them and experience the discomfort for a while, they will diminish with time.
Use relaxation techniques to calm yourself – Relaxation exercises can include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or self-soothing methods that engage your physical senses—sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
Include regular, light exercise in your daily life – Consistent exercise releases feel-good chemicals and reduces stress hormones. Simple things like dancing, swimming, or walking outdoors are great choices.
Practice mindfulness – Panic attacks in response to a post-traumatic stress or phobia trigger can cause a feeling of detachment. Staying grounded in the present and focusing on things around you is essential to "get out of your head."
Employ good self-monitoring techniques – Understanding what triggers you and in which particular situation helps make anxiety more "predictable." And when you are aware of your trigger and ready to act, you can feel more in control.
Try expressing yourself through writing – Getting your worries down on paper (or on tablet) and out of your head allows you to release anger and tension in a constructive way. It also helps you to find meaning and to begin looking at your worries in a new way.
Seek social support – Family members and friends can be a support when you work through stressful situations. Talking with a trusted individual can also validate your emotions and help you improve your mood.
Need more help?
If you are struggling with anxieties, you are absolutely not alone. Many people are anxious, fearful, and stressed about a variety of situations each and every day.
I specialize in anxiety counseling in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. If you would like to schedule an initial consultation, please contact my office at (917) 697-2407 today!