The Different Forms of Anxiety

04 - Jun - 2021

It is natural to experience anxiety and it can be extremely distressing. Sometimes it will be short lived or experienced over a long term of time and sometimes it is something which can occur intermittently. There are many different forms of anxiety, and whilst anxiety can be generalised it can also manifest itself in relation to specific concerns including health and social situations. Determining which one you have can be a valuable step in either managing or resolving it. Often the experience of anxiety also results in sufferers also experiencing other very difficult feelings including guilt, shame or anger and so it is really important to seek help. Take a look at these common anxiety disorders and if you think you might be struggling with one or a mix of these then speaking to an experienced counsellor or psychotherapist can help you to better manage or resolve the source/s of your anxiety. 

Panic Disorder 

Whilst all of us can have anxious thoughts and feelings from time to time it can be very distressing if these continue over a significant period of time or prevent you enjoying life. We have extensive experience of working with people who have suffered panic attacks which are a distinct phenomenon related to stress and anxiety. 

If you experience a panic attack then it is quite likely you won’t even know what is happening. In fact what is most likely is that you won’t feel well, you won’t be able to say what is wrong and that not knowing what is wrong is likely to result in your feeling even worse. You may notice that you have now become anxious because you don’t know why you are feeling so bad but the experience is likely to lead you to be convinced that you are actually very sick.

The surprise comes from the fact that panic attacks come on so suddenly (hence the word attack) and are experienced in such a physical manner. Of course panic attacks can be experienced with differing levels of severity however they tend to render you incapable of being able to manage the kind of rational thinking needed to reach the conclusion it is a panic attack. 

The physical nature of the experience tends to frighten the sufferer so that they begin to feel even worse as adrenaline is generated, the heart thumps and breathing quickens. A panic attack usually ends when something distracts the sufferer and the distraction is enough to allow the anxiety to subside.

Neuroscience is starting to help us understand the impact of anxiety on how the brain functions and to confirm long held views about its nature. It is now being recognised that heightened anxiety can come from the part of the brain called the amygdala. From an evolutionary perspective this area of the brain is tasked with warning us of potential threats and we are starting to understand that whilst this is a very sensitive and fast acting system it is not particularly accurate. 

Some theorists are suggesting that it is not particularly suited to modern day life because there are so many external stimuli, this area of the brain is constantly activated. As such this is why activities such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation and others that involve reducing external stimuli are becoming increasingly important.

Social Anxiety Disorder 

If social interactions are a particular source of anxiety, you may be suffering from social anxiety disorder. Finding it hard to leave the house for fear of being evaluated by others is a typical symptom of social anxiety disorder. It may be difficult to retain friendships or even stay employed for lengthy periods of time as a result of how distressing the experience can be. You may miss out on many activities and chances as a result of your social anxiety condition. Of course everyone is different in terms of how much socialising they need or want, however if you worry that you may be avoiding social situations because of anxiety then help is available. Social anxiety is something often brought to counselling and psychotherapy.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Triggers for trauma are identified as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation and the person will have directly experienced the event, witnessed it, learnt of it in relation to a close family member or friend or, have been exposed to the details of the event.

Faced with a traumatic incident it is normal for a person's survival instincts to activate, so “fight, flight or fright” are the primary physiological responses combined with difficult thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. However it is the symptoms that are present following the event which are used to consider whether someone may need treatment.

In the weeks immediately following a traumatic event it would be usual to diagnose an Acute Stress Disorder or ASD. Sufferers with ASD will have the same symptoms as those with PTSD but not everyone who suffers a trauma and ASD will go on to have PTSD.

The symptoms are grouped into four clusters and include reliving the event (in dreams or through flashbacks), having distressing memories, thoughts or feelings as reminders of the event, then a range of cognitive experiences including memory loss, distorted thinking, wanting isolation and finally “arousal”. So being hyper vigilant, experiencing sleep problems and / or reckless or self destructive behaviour, one example might be use of alcohol.

Recognised treatments for PTSD include talking therapies and our team has extensive experience of working with PTSD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD as it is commonly called, is a lot more complex issue than many people realise. It is a very overused term however for sufferers OCD can be a very distressing and disruptive experience. It is mostly a disorder in which someone has obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive desires. Obsessions can manifest as thoughts, anxieties, doubts, fears, pictures, or urges, while compulsions can manifest in a variety of ways.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) symptoms can emerge or have its roots in childhood for many people. An individual with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may also suffer from other mental health issues, such as worry, guilt, and shame.

Sufferers often bring their experiences to counselling and therapy to learn about the particular stresses that trigger or exacerbate symptoms whilst also developing skills and strategies to manage and resolve them. 

Separation Anxiety Disorder 

Separation anxiety disorder can affect anyone at any age and there is a common misunderstanding that it only affects children and young people. Power feelings of anxiety are triggered by the absence of someone or something that provides a sense of security. The following are signs and symptoms of separation anxiety disorder:

  • Anxiety at being separated from loved ones.
  • Fear of losing a parent to illness or natural disaster on a regular basis
  • Afraid of being separated from my family, therefore I'm not leaving the house.

New situations, like moving away from loved ones, major life disappointments, traumatic events, losses and bereavements are all examples of events that might trigger separation anxiety. As one of the anxiety disorders it is often brought to counselling and therapy. 


Phobias are a specific manifestation of anxiety and are very commonplace. People maybe phobic in relation to animals, places / contexts, sex, bodily concerns for example blood and situations for example flying or dentists. Sufferers may find that their quality of life is severely affected by their phobias with them having to take avoiding actions which mean they feel upset with themselves, embarrassed, ashamed and sad about the things they find they cannot do, for example fly to a friends wedding.

Sufferers may experience panic attacks and prolonged suffering can be associated with other conditions including depression, substance misuse etc.

Counselling and psychotherapy can offer a space for exploring the experience of Phobias and examine ways for managing and alleviating symptoms. One particular technique used in the treatment of phobias is exposure therapy however our team will talk with you about what might be helpful.