Panic attacks (or anxiety attacks) occur suddenly, oftentimes appearing out of the blue, and involve intense fear or discomfort. Panic attacks may include a racing or pounding heart, chest pressure or pain, sweating, shaking or trembling, shortness of breath, choking sensations, nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness, chills or hot flashes, tingling or numbness, feelings of unreality, and fears of dying or "going crazy." Individuals may mistake panic attacks for other health issues such as heart attacks or cardiovascular issues, strokes, and fainting. Given the fear of having a life-threatening issue, and the frightening experience that accompanies panic attacks, individuals may make many visits to emergency rooms or doctor's offices. Panic disorder is the label used when someone who experiences panic attacks becomes preoccupied or fearful of having recurrent attacks. Some people will avoid many or most public situations because they are afraid that they may have a panic attack and will not be able to get help or escape; this is called agoraphobia.
Worry is a normal experience and nearly everyone worries at times. However, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves persistent and excessive worry about a wide variety of different things, nearly every day. Individuals with GAD find it difficult to manage their worry, and the frequency and extent of the worry can interfere with their ability to sleep or concentrate. People with GAD may recognize that their worry is out of proportion to the actual situation, yet still have difficulty controlling it. Excessive worry can also be associated with other symptoms, such as nervousness, agitation or irritability, racing thoughts, stomachaches or nausea, headaches, and muscle tension.
Illness anxiety, or health anxiety, involves constant fear of or preoccupation with having a serious medical condition. People with illness anxiety misinterpret normal bodily sensations as harmful or indicative of an underlying disease or illness. For example, one may mistake a headache for a brain tumor, a freckle for melanoma, or a subtle pain in the leg as cancer. Those who suffer from illness anxiety tend to over-utilize doctor's visits and engage in a great deal of checking and reassurance-seeking (checking their bodies for signs or symptoms, researching the internet, having repeated medical tests, asking others for reassurance that nothing is wrong). Because of the extent and severity of the anxiety about health, people with illness anxiety disorder often experience physical symptoms of anxiety - such as rapid heart rate, dizziness, stomachaches or headaches, and muscle tension - which they may interpret as confirmation that there is a serious medical problem. Sometimes individuals with illness or health anxiety refer to themselves as being a 'hypochondriac,' though this is not a term that psychologists prefer to use.
Separation anxiety is common in infancy and toddlerhood; it's normal for young children between the ages of 18 months to 3 years experience distress when they are separated from a parent or caregiver. Separation anxiety disorder, on the other hand, describes children who continue to have ongoing problems with separation, past the infant and toddler years. Children with separation anxiety disorder become upset when the are apart from - or even anticipate being apart from - their parents or caregivers. Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder can include excessive crying, protesting or tantrums, fears that something bad will happen to their parent or themselves when they are apart, difficulties attending school or going to friend's homes, difficulties sleeping alone or in their own room, and body aches and pains. The distress is severe enough where it gets in the way of children's learning and education, their ability to make or maintain friendships, or their family functioning. For example, parents may not be able to enjoy date nights or the child may not feel comfortable visiting even close family members such as grandparents.
Common fears include snakes or insects, dogs, flying or driving, needles or doctors and visits to the dentists, vomiting, weather or natural disasters, heights, elevators, bodies of water, or the dark. While these are relatively common fears, individuals with specific phobias have such a strong fear that it is considered excessive or unreasonable. The reaction or fear is out of proportion to the actual danger that is presented. Individuals with specific phobias often avoid situations where they could encounter the source of their fear. When the fear is excessive enough that it interferes with a person’s day-to-day life, limits their ability to function in school or at work, or interferes with their relationships, then it is considered to be a phobia. Examples of terms for phobic-level fears include emetophobia (fear of vomiting), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), and trypophobia (fear or disgust of holes).
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by intense fear or anxiety in social situations and/or performance situations. Specifically, individuals with social anxiety disorder are fearful of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected by others. They may worry that others will think that they are stupid, awkward, or boring, or that they will make a fool out of themselves, "mess up," or appear visibly anxious. Due to the magnitude of their anxiety, individuals with social anxiety disorder often try to avoid social situations. If they cannot avoid anxiety-provoking social situation, they may experience physical symptoms such as a racing or pounding heart, nervousness, shaking or trembling, flushed face, sweating, dizziness, or even full blown panic attacks.