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Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Types of Anxiety Disorder

What is Anxiety?

Fritz Perls, developer of Gestalt Therapy, used to tell his clients that: “Anxiety is excitement without breathing.” What a practical definition! The more constricted the breath – the more anxiety. Something exciting is happening and you need to breathe. What’s a situation where you are experiencing some anxiety? Where even just thinking about it triggers anxiety? Rather than suffer through or avoid the situation, try breathing.

Anxiety and Fear

Fear is a normal reaction to a known, external source of danger. Phobias are normal reactions. In anxiety, the individual is frightened, but the source of the danger is not known, not recognized, or inadequate to account for the symptoms. The physiological manifestations are similar.

Types of anxiety disorder:

Panic Disorder (PD)

Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Symptoms of a panic attack vary from one person to the next and may include:

  • Surge of overwhelming panic

  • Feeling of losing control or going crazy

  • Rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations or chest pain

  • Feeling like you’re going to pass out

  • Trouble breathing or choking sensation

  • Hyperventilation

  • Hot flashes or chills

  • Trembling or shaking inside

  • Nausea or stomach cramps

  • Feeling detached or unreal

  • Sweating


Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls or confined spaces such as an airplane.

Social Phobia / Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

If you have a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia. Many sufferers of social phobia can point to something that made their condition worse, often family, parents, bullying, an illness, perhaps just a lingering feeling of something too far back to remember.

Specific Phobia

A phobia is an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals such as snakes and spiders, fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing you fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only strengthens the phobia.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are chronic worrywarts who feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Anxiety related to GAD often shows up as physical symptoms like insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, and fatigue.

Limited Symptom Attacks (LSA)

Many people with panic disorder have a mixture of panic attacks and Limited Symptom Attacks. A Limited Symptom Attack (LSA) is a lower-scale, less comprehensive onset of panic symptoms, when a person feels 3 or less of the panic symptoms listed above. For example, a sudden episode of trembling or nausea accompanied by a fear of dying would be considered an LSA. Not everyone who experiences an LSA has a mental illness. People often experience Limited Symptom Attacks while recovering from or being treated for panic disorder. Like a panic attack, an LSA usually peaks in 10 minutes; however, an attack might last only 1 to 5 minutes, or could be part of a panic episode of varying intensity that lasts several hours.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviours that seem impossible to stop or control. If you have OCD, you may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your hands over and over.

  • Obsessions

    • Everyone has some strange and bizarre thoughts from time to time, but mostly these thoughts are instantly dismissed. Obsessions grow out of frustration and despair. If you suffer from any type of anxiety, then you are probably doing the same thing in your mind; continually going over and over the same thoughts and worries. By the very act of worrying about it you pull that thought back into your mind over and over again.

  • Compulsions

    • Have you ever been to a zoo and watched a tiger pacing relentlessly back and forwards? But imagine (perhaps you don’t have to) that a particular thought is so disturbing that you can’t help asking yourself where it came from, why did you have that thought. If you are so caught up in the moment then you can begin to act these out and they can grow into uncontrolled movements, even whole rituals.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a panic attack that rarely, if ever, lets up. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened, hyper-vigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.

*Artwork by Jacek Yerka

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