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  • Writer's pictureNeurobehavioral Institute (NBI)

Different Categories of Anxiety Disorders

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

If you’re delivering a public speech or have a big test coming up, it’s completely normal to feel worried, stressed, or a bit anxious. However, for someone with an anxiety disorder, worry can be more severe and persistent.

Anxiety can lead to serious and debilitating fear that oftentimes does not make sense to those experiencing anxiety as well as those without anxiety. Individuals with anxiety tend to feel as if they’re constantly on high alert and to dread being in certain situations.

The thing is, in order to best determine if you or someone you love is living with an anxiety disorder, there are differences among stressors and symptoms that are important to understand.

General Anxiety Disorder

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 6.8 million adults are affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) each year. Those with GAD feel overly worried about everyday things such as family, work, finances, health, etc. While most people worry about these things from time to time, the persistence and the severity of the worry is different for these with GAD.

When someone has GAD, they cannot stop worrying and are anxious throughout the majority of their day. They often feel impending doom and as if something bad is bound to happen, even if there is no identifiable reason to feel that way.

Some common symptoms of GAD include:

  • Constant restlessness or nervousness

  • Frequently being “on-edge” and being easily startled

  • Trembling or twitching

  • Unexplained head, stomach, or muscle aches

It’s important to note that those with GAD tend to be high-functioning, sociable people, so it can sometimes be difficult to tell they are suffering from an anxiety disorder. While adults can certainly be diagnosed with GAD, the symptoms most often begin during childhood or adolescence.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

This is often seen in children and young adults, with symptoms typically first appearing before a child is 12 years old. Like other subtypes of anxiety, Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can be caused by biological and environmental factors, as well as be learned from family members, particularly if a parent has an anxiety disorder themselves.

Children and adolescents who have SAD may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Refusing to sleep alone

  • Being extremely distressed when they are away from their home or family member

  • Worrying excessively about getting lost from a family member

  • Refusing to go to school

Social Anxiety Disorder

It’s typical to feel shy or nervous when first meeting new people or when heading into a new social situation. However, those who meet the criteria for a social anxiety disorder:

  • Have persistent fear of embarrassing themselves in public

  • Worry excessively about the impression they’ll make on others

  • Spend a lot of time fearing upcoming social events

  • Avoid social situations in more severe cases

Those with social anxiety often recognize that their anxiety is irrational but cannot control the fear they feel about social situations. As a result, they often isolate themselves and find ways to prevent forming interpersonal or romantic relationships out of fear of being judged or rejected.

Selective Mutism

This anxiety disorder is characterized by a child’s inability or unwillingness to speak in certain social settings. They will, however, be able and be willing to speak in situations they’re comfortable in. For example, they may be shy or withdrawn at school but be talkative at home.

Children with Selective Mutism (SM) are irrationally afraid of speaking in social situations and of any social situations that would require them to speak, which significantly impacts their social engagement skills. In social settings, children with SM may:

  • Be expressionless

  • Freeze up

  • Seem socially isolated

  • Whisper if they do speak


This anxiety disorder is associated with fearing and avoiding places due to fear that they may be trapped and unable to escape or be helpless if panic-like symptoms develop. Individuals with agoraphobia struggle to feel safe in public places, especially anywhere they have had a panic attack. They may be afraid of:

  • Leaving the house by themselves

  • Being in enclosed public spaces such as elevators or movie theaters

  • Being in open public spaces such as parks or on bridges

  • Taking public transit such as a bus or plane

Agoraphobia typically results from a negative experience in a certain place. For example, someone may fear public parks because they once had a panic attack at a park, or they may fear buses because they were involved in an accident while riding a bus.

Panic Disorder

Individuals diagnosed with panic disorders experience seemingly random panic attacks. Because of this, they are focused on the fear of a future, impending attack. While children can experience panic attacks, they are more common in adults.

Since panic attacks are typically out-of-the-blue, this disorder greatly affects a person’s daily life and can result in missed work, frequent doctor visits and social isolation. Until they develop a better understanding of their panic attacks and of the cause of their symptoms, they are not able to effectively cope.

Find Help for Your Anxiety Disorder with Neurobehavioral Institute

At NBI, we offer specialized psychological assessment and treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults dealing with severe anxiety, OCD, and related disorders. Our mission is to bring the highest quality of evidence-supported psychological care to each and every patient to make a significant and lasting difference in their lives.

Contact us today for a confidential consultation and begin changing your life at its core.

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