What are the different types of anxiety?

Anxiety can present itself in numerous different forms. Learn the difference and where you can go for help.

Written by Medibank

According to Beyond Blue, 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, and data tells us that 26.3 per cent of Australians aged 16 to 85 – that’s 4.96 million people – have experienced an anxiety disorder. What’s more, it also appears to be more prevalent in women than men.

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It can be difficult to define exactly what ‘anxiety’ is, and the condition can affect everyone differently. Anxiety can present itself in numerous different forms, including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Here’s a bit about each form of anxiety and how they differ.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is the most common form of anxiety disorder. People experiencing GAD often experience prolonged periods of uncontrollable and irrational worry about minor, everyday situations or events. Symptoms of GAD include restlessness, irritability, fatigue, irregular breathing, inability to concentrate, and disturbed sleep.

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

Social anxiety disorder, otherwise known as ‘social phobia’, is the fear of feeling embarrassed or negatively judged by others in public or social situations. Scenarios to trigger this condition include public speaking, being centre of attention, and social interactions like meals with friends or having to make small talk with strangers. People experiencing social phobia, placed in these situations, may experience symptoms like sweating, trembling, blushing and stammering when trying to speak and nausea.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences unexpected, regular, disabling, reoccurring panic attacks, which can be characterised by a pounding heart, , shortness of breath, trembling, feeling choked, excessive sweating, dizziness, light-headedness or feeling faint and nausea. While some people find their panic attacks are triggered by a certain situation or location -- such as public speaking or flying, for example -- others may find their panic attacks come on at random.

As panic attacks worsen, people can begin to experience additional symptoms such as social avoidance, where they avoid certain situations for fear it may bring on a panic attack. This fear could be based on a previous experience in that situation or location, or it could be that the person feels they wouldn’t be able to ‘escape’ if a panic attack came on.

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder affects more than 500,000 Australians. As the name suggests, there are two parts to OCD -- obsessions and compulsions. People experiencing OCD often worry, or ‘obsess’, over everyday things, such as germs, dirt, and orderliness. These could either be on the person’s mind 24/7, or triggered by particular people, smells and surroundings. ‘Compulsions’ are the behaviours a person carries out repetitively, sometimes in a particular pattern -- in an attempt to reduce or avoid anxiety. These actions could include excessive hand washing, cleaning or checking of locks.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is often triggered following a traumatic event in which a person’s life or safety was in danger, for example through a serious accident, disasters, physical abuse or sexual assault. PTSD is when the feelings experienced during this traumatic event, such as fear, helplessness or horror, continue after the event has passed. The longer this continues, the more difficult it can become for someone experiencing PTSD to manage with everyday life, work and relationships.

Read more about the different types of anxiety at Beyond Blue.

Getting help

Whatever your type of anxiety, it’s important to find the right treatment and health professional for you. If this is your first time seeking support for your anxiety, talk to your GP. They will be able to assess your situation and recommend the best next steps for your treatment.

Find out more about where to go for help.

24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

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Things you need to know

~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).