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Fact Sheet

Anxiety disorders: types, causes, and symptoms

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Anxiety versus anxiety disorders

Everyone gets anxious from time to time. Anxiety can help you stay safe. For example, it brings about physiological symptoms that warn you to fight, flee or freeze in dangerous situations. Anxiety also helps you perform better. For example, feeling anxious before an exam can assist you to stay alert, which helps you to do your best. It’s not uncommon to feel anxious before exams or when there are stressful events in your life. For more info, check out the Anxiety fact sheet.

If this anxiety is interfering with many areas of your day-to-day life like schoolwork or relationships, it’s possible that you have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can make you feel nervous a lot of the time in different situations and for maybe long periods of time.

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans. If you have an anxiety disorder you are definitely not alone.

What causes anxiety and anxiety disorders?

Anxiety can be part your genetic and biochemical make up, as well as part of your personality. There are many things that can trigger anxiety, such as your environment, stressful situations, problems within the family, or a traumatic event.

Some causes of an anxiety disorder might be:

  • Genetics: A history of anxiety within your family;
  • Biochemical: An imbalance of the chemicals in the brain that regulate feelings and physical reactions, which can alter your thoughts, emotions or behavior;
  • A stressful event: A single event or chain of events such as divorce, abuse, ongoing bullying at school, sexual abuse, a death, a relationship break-up, or family conflict;
  • Personality: Certain personality types are more at risk of anxiety than others.

Types of anxiety disorders and symptoms

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and treatments. Here is a list of examples:

General anxiety is an extreme and uncontrollable worry that is not specific to any one thing.

Social anxiety or social phobia involves a fear of social or performance situations (such as meeting new people) in which an individual may be embarrassed. People with social anxiety commonly avoid social situations. Check out the Social anxiety fact sheet for more info.

Agoraphobia is anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing if an individual has a panic attack. It usually leads to avoidance of certain places and situations.

Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed or confined spaces. People with claustrophobia may experience panic attacks, or fear of having a panic attack, in situations such as being in elevators or trains.

Panic disorder occurs when you have regular panic attacks. Some people may develop agoraphobia as a result of the panic attacks. Check out the Panic Attacks fact sheet for more info.

Specific phobias involve intense and ongoing fear of particular objects or situations. Seeing the object you’re afraid of might trigger a panic attack. Usually the object or situation is avoided.

Hypochondria refers to an extreme concern or worry about having a serious illness. People with hypochondria have a constant fixation with their body, self-examining and self-diagnosing.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves unwanted thoughts, impulses, or obsessions and repetitive, routine behaviors, also called compulsions. Check out the OCD fact sheet for more info.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder sparked by a major traumatic event, such as rape or accident. It is marked by upsetting memories, “blunting” of emotions, and difficulties sleeping. Check out the PTSD fact sheet for more info.


There are a number of treatments for the different anxiety disorders. It might be a good idea to research the disorder relevant to you and arrange to see your doctor. They should be able to tell you about the different treatment options available and let you know what the best approach is for you.

Try to remember that managing your anxiety disorder may take time. There may be good days and not so good days. Dealing with your anxiety disorder is possible. For more information and on how to get help, visit Mental Health Support and Treatment Options. You can also look at the Anxiety Disorders of America for more information.

The following source provided information for this fact sheet:

Statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Last edited by Kristie - Feb 2014.


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  • avatar2

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    I don’t really know what’s happening with me. I used to be at peace with myself even though I always had low self-esteem. I have always had good grades through high school and now that I’ve started university I feel so much pressure. I feel anxious all the time. I used to blame the pressure I put to myself about grades but even now that I’ve reached really good grades in university, I can’t calm myself. There is a feeling inside of me that makes me uncomfortable all the time. I feel like life has no meaning and I’m stupid and I feel like I’m going crazy. I don’t know what to do because I can’t find a reason for feeling this way. I talked with my mum but she took things really badly, she got upset and I faked being well because I don’t wanna be selfish and make her more upset. I feel like I can’t talk to anyone because nobody really cares. I don’t know what to do to get this feeling out of me. I start crying for things that shouldn’t upset me at all. I even hurt my self to feel physical pain over my emotional one. I feel like I can’t handle my emotions inside of my body and I acknowledge that I’m not in a good state but I don’t know what to do to help myself. Please help me.

    • avatar2

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      Hey it’s okay. I’ve been there and i’m still going through it as we speak, but it gets better. When you worry that’s when the unpleasant thoughts come in. I used to think i was crazy too. Look at this site because I think it will help you. It helped me so much to really understand what was going on in my head and that i’m not crazy.

    • avatar1

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      I’m so sorry that you’re having these uncomfortable feelings.  It’s obvious that you’re very upset, and really having a hard time.  Is there someone (other than your mom) that you could talk to about it?  One thing you can do is call the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000.  They’re available 24/7 to talk to you about anything, and can give great advice.  You could also read this fact sheet:

      We care about you, and we really hope things start to improve for you!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    I have anxiety about grades. I was always labeled “the smart-one” because of my good grades, and even at a young age, I tried tried to refute that statement, and I told them that there are many different kinds of smart, and that grades are just a way to judge someone, and really don’t count. But still whenever I meet someone, they tell me, you’re smart, I bet you have a 4.0, don’t ya’. And whenever they describe me the first and generally only thing they can come up with is, she’s really smart. It’s like a knife to my chest because of what this did to me.
    I began accepting my reputation as the class “smarty-pants” throughout middle school, getting good grades with ease. And with it I started associating bad grades with failure and unhappiness.
    I’m in high school and about to get an A-, and I feel lost and that I’ve failed, and screwed myself over for the rest of my life. I’m constantly anxious about my grades, and on the weekends I often have break downs. I’m terrified of getting bad grades, and I can’t relax. And when I do manage to it only makes things worse, and I break down because of all the time I’ve lost, and then I break down because my breaking down lost even more time, and it continues. Then I’ll feel better after feeling the next day or two depressed, and it happens all over again.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote


      Hey there!  There seems to be so many themes here… insecurities, stress, expectations, self-talk. We’re so sorry that you’re experiencing all of this! Do you have someone you can talk to about it all? It seems like it might be time for a counselor or a therapist, just to help you sort things out.

      This fact sheet gives more information about counseling:

      Please take care!
      —The ReachOut Team

  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote


    I get panic attacks and or seizures…all the time
    I have really bad anxiety to…
    its really hard to deal with and I’m 13…
    what should i do?
    the doctor said he didn’t really know how to help.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote


      Hi Music. We’re sorry you’re having such a hard time. We think you should talk to your parents about seeing another doctor, perhaps a mental health specialist - someone like a psychiatrist or a therapist. It’s important to get you the help you need to get your panic attacks under control.

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