I don’t like labels. In the anxiety therapy field, we have a defined set of “anxiety disorder” codes to use for diagnosis. The codes are limited because they force us to lump people in categories and use labels based on criteria that don’t always accurately describe the real problem.
I prefer an individualized approach. I look at the unique way that anxiety surfaces for each person, and then focus on making a customized plan focused on solving the real problem rather than on giving someone a label. Problems come and go but labels stick.
People often ask whether what they are experiencing is anxiety, so here’s a look at some different types of anxiety (without worrying about the labels).Remember these are generalities and show up differently for different people.
Different Types of Anxiety
You would probably call yourself a “worry wart.” You constantly worry about a number of different things… work, health, relationships. You think of worst-case scenarios and often wonder “what if” this or “what if” that.
Panic Attacks (aka Anxiety Attacks)
You suddenly feel physical symptoms that feel out of control, such as heart racing, dizziness, trembling, sweating, chills or flush, tingling or numbness. It comes out of nowhere and is very scary. You might think you’re having a heart attack and go to the emergency room, only to find out nothing is physically wrong.
Fears and Phobias
You have strong fears of very specific things, such as: flying, driving, heights, enclosed spaces (like elevators, planes, or rooms without a clear exit route), feeling trapped, bugs, blood, driving, being alone, or being away from home. These are just some examples.
Social Anxiety (Shyness)
You often feel nervous around other people, perhaps only in a certain social situation, or in many different ones. You feel very self-conscious, wonder what people are thinking about you, and worry about embarrassing yourself. It’s hard to go into new situations and have to meet new people.
You have the very same upsetting thoughts over and over again. This could include thoughts of losing control, being contaminated (or contaminating others) with dirt or germs, or feeling guilty for things you didn’t even do.
You have an urge to do certain things. Perhaps count things, check and re-check things, wash/clean repeatedly, repeat words, or arrange things in a certain way. It’s like you HAVE TO do them out of fear that something bad could happen. You can’t seem to stop yourself.
You still have intense memories, emotions, flashbacks, and/or nightmares related to a past traumatic situation you witnessed or experienced. You may avoid certain places, people or situations. You may feel jumpy or “on alert” much of the time. Traumatic situations could include abuse, rape, violence, car accidents, miscarriage, bullying, injury/illness, someone dying, or many other things.
“Stuff” is overtaking your home. You may collect too many things, have a problem getting rid of things, and/or have a problem organizing things… to the point where it limits the use of your living spaces and wastes significant amounts of time.
Your doctor tells you there is nothing to be concerned about, but you still seem to have continual health complaints and symptoms. You often focus on health problems and may wonder if you have a serious medical condition even though you’ve never been diagnosed with one.
You’re convinced there’s something about your physical appearance that looks terrible. You’re sure everyone notices so you don’t believe them when they say that there’s nothing wrong, or that you’re beautiful. It could be related to your body shape, weight, acne, hair, nose or any another body feature. It might be all you can see when you look in the mirror.
Public Speaking Anxiety
You dread having to speak in front of a group of people (small or large). You get extremely nervous, afraid that your mind will go blank or that you may make a fool of yourself.
Performance or Test Anxiety
You get overly anxious and nervous when you’re expected to perform or compete in front of others. You do poorly on tests even though you are well prepared.
You avoid public restrooms. You can’t urinate when others are in the bathroom or might be within earshot. Even if you try, you just can’t go.
White Coat Syndrome
You get nervous even thinking about doctor appointments, and your blood pressure spikes every time you go to a doctor’s office (and therefore they often want to give you medication for it).