The following list describes all of the diagnosable anxiety disorders:
• Panic disorder with or without agoraphobia: The occurrence of panic attacks out of the blue, along with fears of future attacks, worry about the consequences of the attack (such as a heart attack), or significant behavior changes related to the attacks (such as not working out to avoid your heart rate going above a certain number). Panic disorder is diagnosed either with or without agoraphobia (see next paragraph).
• Agoraphobia without history of panic disorder: A fear of places or situations in which escape may be difficult or help might not be available if a panic attack or panic symptoms occur. These situations are generally avoided or endured with significant distress, or a trusted friend or family member is required to go along to ensure that the agoraphobic feels safe. For example, if you once had a panic attack in a movie theater, you may stop going to the movies or only go if someone you trust is with you so that person can help you if you get anxious. Agoraphobia is diagnosed either alone (without history of panic disorder) or in conjunction with panic disorder.
• Specific phobias: Specific phobias (such as fears of elevators, planes, heights, and so on) are excessive or unreasonable fears of the presence or the anticipation of an object, situation, or event. Therefore, people with phobias of specific things avoid these things, often at a significant cost to themselves (such as losing their job because of refusing to fly to a business meeting in another city).
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder: The presence of obsessive thoughts, impulses, or images and the resulting behaviors (compulsions) performed to undo those thoughts, impulses, or images.
Though it is possible to be diagnosed with OCD while experiencing only obsessions or only compulsions, this is very rare.
• Social phobia: The excessive fear of social situations in which a person may be subject to the scrutiny of others or may become embarrassed or humiliated. People with social phobia characteristically exaggerate the consequences that could occur if they were to make a mistake or be judged negatively, so they avoid the situations where this could occur.
• Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): The experience of an event that involved the threat of death or serious injury to yourself or someone close to you, or the actual death of that person, and the feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror that result from that event. In response to this event and these feelings, there are experiences of arousal, such as a heightened startle response; experiences of avoidance, such as not going near the place where the event occurred; and the re-experiencing of the event, such as in flashbacks or nightmares. The diagnosis of PTSD is considered when the reaction to the event is still causing significant difficulties four weeks after the trauma occurred.
• Acute stress disorder: Similar to posttraumatic stress disorder, but the experience of significant anxiety lasts between two days to four weeks and occurs within four weeks of the traumatic event.
• Generalized anxiety disorder: Excessive anxiety and worry over the course of six months or more about several different topics. Along with the worry, the person experiences symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability, restlessness, muscle tension, or sleep disturbance. The worry is to such an extent that it causes significant interference in the person’s life.
• Anxiety disorder not otherwise specified: When a person is experiencing significant anxiety symptoms, but they do not fall neatly into any of the categories above, the diagnosis of anxiety disorder not otherwise specified can be given.
All of the anxiety disorders are based in the fear center of the brain, and with all of them there is an overactive fear response to some type of cue or stressor, which causes significant interference in the person’s life.