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Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, and adults who have a mental health condition often have more than one at a time. If you are worrying excessively, having difficulty concentrating, or are easily distressed or fearful, specialists at NYU Langone’s Mood Disorders Consultation Service can help to determine the cause and the best course of treatment for you.

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

An adult with generalized anxiety disorder has persistent and excessive worries that are not focused on a specific object or situation. He or she may worry too much about school or work performance, personal safety and the safety of family members, or natural disasters.

A person with generalized anxiety disorder has a hard time “turning off” worries, which can lead to problems concentrating, processing information, and participating in social situations. Some people may feel insecure and frequently seek reassurance. They may be self-conscious, self-doubting, or overly concerned about meeting other people’s expectations.

The condition affects about 6.8 million American adults and nearly twice as many women as men. Generalized anxiety disorder develops gradually and can begin at any point in a person’s life, though it occurs most often between childhood and middle age.

The disorder sometimes runs in families, but researchers are not certain why generalized anxiety disorder affects some people and not others.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, have obsessions—anxiety-inducing, unwanted thoughts—that make them feel compelled to perform repetitive actions, rituals, or routines. These behaviors help to relieve anxiety.

A person may be obsessed about germs, losing control, or exactness. Compulsions may include behaviors such as washing, counting, or organizing. These thoughts and behaviors significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function.

OCD runs in families, and it affects men and women equally. Most people are diagnosed by age 19. Symptoms may fluctuate in severity at different times in a person’s life.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a form of anxiety involving sudden and repeated episodes of intense fear. These physical and emotional reactions are called panic attacks.

Some people feel terror when they are in certain situations or places, such as waiting in line, standing in a crowded room, or riding in an elevator. As a result, they experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, a pounding heart, tingling and numbing sensations, or hot or cold flashes.

Panic attacks may or may not accompany agoraphobia, the fear of being stuck in a situation in which help or escape is impossible.

Severe anxiety may trigger a panic attack, but symptoms of panic disorder don’t always have an apparent trigger. Unlike the mild worries associated with daily life, the symptoms of panic disorder may dramatically interfere with a person’s usual activities.

Panic disorder affects about 6 million American adults and is twice as common in women. It appears to be an inherited condition. The attacks often begin in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Not everyone who experiences panic attacks develops panic disorder. Some people have just one or two attacks and never have another.

Social Phobia

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, is an excessive fear of being rejected, humiliated, or embarrassed in front of others.

People with social phobia worry about a wide range of situations, such as speaking in front of a group, participating in group situations, talking to others, starting or joining in conversations, or eating in public. They may fear unfamiliar people and have difficulty making friends.

Social phobia can also be limited to specific situations. Some people may fear dating and recreational events, for instance, but they may be confident in the work setting.

People with social phobia usually avoid situations they fear.

Our Research and Education in Anxiety Disorders

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.