The term “anxiety” is widely used to cover so many different disorders, but it's actually a very broad term. Someone who struggles with Social Anxiety Disorder, for example, is going to have a different set of triggers than someone coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might. As an anxious person myself, I wanted to learn more about some of the different types of anxiety disorders out there — and how to distinguish which one(s) I might be struggling with.
Jodi Aman, psychotherapist and author of You 1 Anxiety 0, agreed to speak to Bustle about some of the more common different kinds of anxiety. Aman, who's worked as a counselor since 1994, believes that all anxiety disorders stem from the same three things: control issues, hormones, and the way you make meaning out of your anxiety. She also believes that anxiety can be more than just managed, but completely cured. (Sign me up, am I right?) Aman says that it’s customary for mental health professionals to teach their patients how to manage anxiety, but she feels like making the most out of living with chronic anxiety isn’t the only option.
The first step is identifying the issue and learning more about it — so here are five different types of anxiety you should know.
Social Anxiety Disorder
According to the ADAA, social anxiety usually manifests around age 13, and at least 15 million Americans struggle with it. Further, unlike some mental illness, social anxiety reportedly affects men just as much as it affects women. Aman tells Bustle that social anxiety is just regular anxiety that's attached itself to the fear of being around other people. Unfortunately, what that means is the disorder can show itself with physical symptoms of panic (like sweating, racing heart, etc.) related to social activities. Scripting conversations in advance of everyday interactions is another obvious sign of social anxiety disorder. (And it's one that I'm all too familiar with, myself.) Although it's true that the symptoms of social anxiety are consistently similar from person to person, the specifics of what triggers someone's social anxiety depend entirely on the individual who suffers from it.
As Aman explains it, "Different people experience it differently. In different contexts, their social anxiety will come out." So basically, while some people (like myself) get socially anxious before a big party full of new people, that doesn't necessarily mean that all social situations will trigger someone with social anxiety.
For example, I feel very little social anxiety when I go to concerts, because crowds of strangers don't usually bother me. I consider myself a pretty socially anxious person, but I also relish anonymity. For this reason, I sometimes enjoy the energy and camouflage that comes with being part of a large crowd. (When I lived in NYC, I visited Times Square often for this very reason.) House parties full of new people, on the other hand, can freak me out so much that chest pains and sweaty palms become my reality. It's different for everyone.
Situational (Or Seasonal) Anxiety Disorder
There's not exactly a wealth of reliable information regarding just how many people suffer from situational anxiety, because the term is incredibly broad and not everyone recognizes it. More than 10 million people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, (SAD) however, and "autumn anxiety" is one form of that. So basically, situational anxiety is a flexible term for anxiety that's attached itself to a specific memory, season, or situation.
Because it's attached to something, someone, or sometime specific, situational anxiety is arguably one of the more manageable forms of anxiety. Situational and seasonal anxiety can still be incredibly difficult to conquer, though, because doing so means resetting your amygdala. As you probably know, your amygdala is the part of your brain that triggers fear responses and emotions. What you might not know is that once your amygdala catalogs a memory as unsafe, it will always trigger a fear response when the circumstances of that memory are re-created.
Aman says it's kind of like post-traumatic stress disorder (though PTSD is different, and we'll get to that in a minute.) Whenever someone makes a memory where they felt unsafe, "their amygdala sets that memory in. Like, 'OK, if we ever feel this way again, we might be in danger." This essentially means that once your amygdala recognizes a certain situation or season as a potential threat to your well-being, it's hardwired to put you on alert mode whenever you encounter that same situation again.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD-induced anxiety is the direct result of a deeply traumatic experience, and the intense flashbacks that accompany PTSD are no joke. For these reasons and more, Aman says that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn't quite like any other anxiety disorder. Though it's not uncommon to have PTSD about panic attacks — and the majority of anxiety develops because of a traumatic memory — PTSD is still different. "There's a huge element of anxiety with PTSD," Aman says, "but it comes from something else."
According to the ADAA, the "something else" that most often causes PTSD to develop is sexual assault. More than seven million Americans suffer from PTSD, and women are more likely to be affected by it than men. It should be noted, however, that rape is the most likely trigger of PTSD in both men and women. In fact, 65 percent of men who are raped will develop PTSD, according to the ADAA. For women, that percentage is closer to 46.
Six million Americans struggle with Panic Disorder, the ADAA reports. Women are twice as likely to suffer from Panic Disorder as men, and it's not at all uncommon for someone who suffers from Panic Disorder to also struggle with depression. Symptoms of panic disorder range from frequent panic attacks to heart palpitations, all of which leave the sufferer feeling even more out of control.
It's important to understand that it doesn't always take much to trigger someone with Panic Disorder. Further, once their panic has set in, they're probably going to feel like it's impossible to shut off. Aman explained it to Bustle this way: "their amygdala is going to trigger, and they're going to have the adrenaline and the norepinephrin, and then it feels so out of control that it's going to continue." According to Aman, "their cortex is like, 'yes, I feel in danger,' even if they don't see danger around them."
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is quite common, as far as anxiety disorders go. GAD affects nearly seven million American adults, and women are twice as likely to be affected as men. When left unchecked, GAD can negatively affect everything from your physical health to your relationships, so you definitely shouldn't ignore any GAD symptoms that you might have. Signs of GAD include panic attacks, worrying about worrying, social withdrawal, and compulsive behaviors. (Like excessive cleaning and quadruple-checking your stove top before leaving your apartment.)
As its name implies, Generalized Anxiety can be triggered by literally anything that your brain perceives as a threat — whether that perceived threat is to your safety, your reputation, or your ability to handle whatever life throws at you. As Aman puts it, "mostly, anxiety is really based in [the idea that] 'you can't do that.'"
Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that GAD can leave you feeling like you're not capable of the simplest tasks, which can be disempowering. So among other things, living with GAD means continually proving yourself to yourself.
Luckily, getting help for any of these disorders, as well as learning about the simple things you can do to protect your mental health on a daily basis, makes a real difference.