What is an anxiety disorder?

It’s normal to feel stressed, worried, or scared from time to time, but it’s a problem if you feel that way most of the time. Anxiety disorders make you feel overwhelmed, and they are really disruptive to your life. Here are a few different types of anxiety disorders:

Sometimes it's so bad that I don't want to leave the house, or even my room.

Social phobia disorder

This is the most common type of anxiety disorder. It makes you want to avoid social situations because you’re afraid of doing something that will embarrass you or make you stand out in some way. Social phobia can make you afraid to ask a question in class, go to a party, join a club, or hang out with new people. Click here for more information on social phobia disorder.

Panic disorder

A panic disorder is when a person experiences intense physical sensations when they’re stressed or upset. Panic attacks are a feature of panic disorder. Click here to read more about panic disorder.

Specific phobia disorder

A specific phobia is an intense fear of one thing, like spiders, getting lost, or being in tight spaces. This fear is accompanied by body sensations, such as sweating, racing heart, dizziness, and other symptoms. Click here to read more about specific phobia disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

This type of anxiety causes you to worry a lot for at least six months straight. You might worry about the same thing or lots of things. Either way, you can’t escape the feelings of dread and nervousness. This type of anxiety usually comes with some kind of physical symptom as well, such as trouble concentrating, snapping at people, and having trouble sleeping. Click here for more information on generalized anxiety disorder.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This kind of anxiety makes you constantly think about (obsess) over something. The obsession makes you behave in certain ways, and these behaviours are called compulsions. For example, someone who constantly worries about germs might wash their hands over and over again. Click here to learn more about OCD.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This is a form of anxiety that can affect people who have experienced a very upsetting event or set of circumstances. War, torture, and sexual assault are examples of experiences that can cause someone to suffer from PTSD. Someone who has PTSD may experience nightmares and flashbacks, along with other symptoms. Click here for more information on PTSD.

Separation anxiety disorder

This type of anxiety is more common in kids than teens. It makes you afraid to be apart from your parents or other adults you’re close to. Separation anxiety can make kids terrified to go to school, summer camp or even a sleepover with friends. Click here to learn more about separation anxiety disorder.

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming set of feelings. It can happen during an upsetting or frightening experience, or it can also happen for no reason at all. Here are some signs of a panic attack:

  • Racing heart
  • Choking feeling; wanting to throw up
  • Panting
  • Pain in your chest or stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaky voice
  • Headache
  • Sweaty palms

You can’t die from a panic attack, but knowing that doesn’t help in the moment. Click here for tips on how to deal with a panic attack. If you experience panic attacks, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor to make sure there isn’t something else going on.




Did You Know?

About 15 percent of the population experiences an anxiety disorder at some point in their life

How can I tell if I have an anxiety disorder?

Worrying a lot or feeling nervous most of the time is a good sign that you have some kind of anxiety. It might not be very severe, but it’s a good idea to talk to someone about it, so you can find coping strategies that work for you. Here are some of the common signs of an anxiety disorder:

  • Constantly worrying about your grades
  • Wanting to be perfect, or being afraid to ever make a mistake
  • Obsessing about dying
  • Being afraid of the dark
  • Crying a lot
  • Having nightmares
  • Blanking out or freezing up when something stressful happens
  • Worrying that something horrible will happen to your family
  • Feeling like you’re going crazy
  • Avoiding your friends or social settings
  • Being terrified of speaking up in class, and never being able to ask a question

If you think you have an anxiety disorder, it’s a good idea to talk about it with a parent, counsellor, or other adult you trust. You can also try talking to your doctor or speaking to a counsellor at Kids Help Phone.

The next section has tips for coping with anxiety.

Last Reviewed September 2012 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team
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