Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
If you have obsessive thoughts this means that certain words or ideas keep coming into your mind automatically. This can make you feel very anxious, particularly if the thoughts are nasty, unpleasant or frightening. For example, some people have repeated thoughts about germs causing disease or death.
In order to cope with the anxiety they start to do things over and over again to get rid of the thoughts, such as washing their hands every few minutes, or reciting numbers. This is known as compulsive behaviour. People with this type of anxiety also tend to make it worse by continually checking their own thoughts. There can sometimes be a physical reason for obsessive thoughts, such as an infection, so it may be worth speaking to your doctor about this.
Panic attacks / panic disorder
A panic attack is a very frightening experience because it seems to come ‘out of the blue’. Most people describe a sudden overwhelming sense of anxiety, fast breathing, a racing heart and a feeling that they are about to collapse or faint.
If you experience repeated panic attacks in different situations this is known as a panic disorder. People who experience panic attacks tend to be unusually aware of changes in their bodies, and also tend to assume that these changes are dangerous when they may be quite harmless. For example, there are lots of reasons for increased heart rate (such as running upstairs or drinking too much coffee) but a person with panic disorder will usually choose the most frightening explanation (such as an imminent heart attack). People with a history of panic attacks also tend to worry about losing control of their bodies and their feelings.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is the name given to the after effects of an unusually frightening or horrifying experience, for example seeing someone killed, surviving an accident or losing your home or family. If you have PTSD you will tend to re-live your traumatic experience, by dreaming about it, thinking about it, and becoming upset if you see similar events or scenes.
You may find yourself avoiding places or activities which remind you of that experience, and you may also find it difficult to be positive and plan for the future. Obviously it is quite normal to feel upset immediately after a painful or distressing experience, so the term PTSD is only applicable if the feelings persist. It is also important not to confuse PTSD with grief following the death of a loved one.
Generalised anxiety disorder
Sometimes anxiety is experienced in a more general way. For example, you may feel worried most of the time about things which might go wrong. You may feel tense or restless, or find that your heart is racing without knowing exactly what you are worried about.