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6 Types of Anxiety Disorders: What to Know

By Amanda Doyle
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
December 27, 2023

Most of us have dealt with the occasional bout of anxiety, but for some, anxious feelings that overwhelm and aren’t easily managed can become a regular occurrence that interferes with day-to-day functioning. Overwhelming anxiety that’s difficult to cope with may signal an anxiety disorder.

Overall, anxiety disorders affect nearly one-third of adults at some point in their lives, according to the American Psychiatric Association. And anxiety comes in many forms—there are 11 types of anxiety disorders in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the handbook that experts use to characterize and help diagnose mental health conditions. Here’s what to know about six of the most common.

illustration of a woman with her hands covering her face

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Nearly 6% of people will have generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Characteristics and Symptoms: GAD involves excessive worry about everyday things that persists for more days than not for at least six months. Other common symptoms include restlessness or feeling on edge, excessive tiredness, irritability, unexplained aches and pains, problems with sleep and/or concentration, being easily startled, and lightheadedness.

Causes: Stressful life experiences and genetics may contribute to the development of GAD. However, the exact cause isn’t yet fully understood.

illustration of a man with his hand over his heart

2. Panic Disorder

It’s estimated that 2%–3% of Americans experience panic disorder in a given year, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America.

Characteristics and Symptoms: Panic attacks are intense and spontaneous waves of fear. Someone having a panic attack may experience a pounding heart, nausea, chest pain, trembling, shortness of breath, and other symptoms that may resemble a heart attack. Panic disorder involves repeated panic attacks, as well as an intense fear of future panic attacks that may lead to avoidance of school, work, and other activities. Panic disorder often first occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, and it’s twice as common among women as it is in men.

Causes: Panic disorder may have a genetic component, and life stress may contribute. Worrying about an attack when you’re feeling symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat from exercise, may also bring on the start of a panic attack.

illustration of a man leaning against a door and peeking at the window from it

3. Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a fear of any place that may be difficult. It’s estimated that about 2% of adults in the United States experience agoraphobia at some point in their lives.

Characteristics and Symptoms: Someone with agoraphobia may feel intense anxiety in crowded spaces, open spaces, airplanes and public transportation, and other environments. As a result, people with agoraphobia tend to avoid these situations or even struggle to leave the house.

Causes: Factors that may increase the risk of agoraphobia include life experiences that threaten a person’s overall sense of safety, including abuse.

illustration of a group of people standing on the left while a woman on the right is feeling anxious

4. Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)

Social anxiety, the fear of judgment, rejection, or embarrassment in front of other people, affects about 12% of adults at some point in their lives.

Characteristics and Symptoms: Social anxiety disorder may cause a person to avoid (or endure with great distress) everyday situations such as work, school, eating or using the restroom in public, performing or presenting in front of others, and more. Common symptoms include blushing or flushing, sweating, nausea, and feelings of self-consciousness.

Causes: In addition to biological and genetic factors, having controlling or critical parents, being bullied, and having lower self-esteem have been associated with an increased risk of social anxiety disorder.

illustration of germophobia, arachnophobia, and claustrophobia

5. Specific Phobia

An estimated 12.5% of U.S. adults may experience a specific phobia to an object, situation, or activity, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Characteristics and Symptoms: Specific phobias are excessive, irrational fears to things that pose little to no real threat. Often, people with phobias acknowledge that this exaggerated fear is irrational but still feel terror, dread, and anxiety when they experience, anticipate, or think about their phobias. People may go to great lengths to avoid the focus of their phobias.

Causes: Phobias may be learned from firsthand or witnessed traumatic experiences. For instance, someone who got in a terrible car accident may develop a debilitating fear of driving afterward. However, not all phobias seem to have a clear cause.

illustration of a hand grabbing someone else's arm

6. Separation Anxiety Disorder

Although separation anxiety disorder is more common among children, it can also occur in adults. Across their lifetimes, about 4% of adults will have separation anxiety disorder.

Characteristics and Symptoms: Separation anxiety disorder shows up as marked and persistent worry about being away from parents, children, partners, and other loved ones. Hallmarks include nightmares about separation or loss, avoidance of going out, anxious symptoms such as getting a stomach ache when separation is possible, and interference with daily activities.

Causes: It’s not known why some people develop separation anxiety disorder. Factors that may increase the risk include having relatives with the disorder and having an anxious attachment style.

Where to Get Help

If you’re experiencing any level of anxiety, help is available and often very successful at decreasing symptoms. Reach out to a licensed mental health professional who can provide evidence-based treatment. Feeling better is possible.

The following organizations may also provide assistance: