Different Types of Anxiety Disorders: How Are They Classified?

Published on: 23 May 2017
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There is a history of division in the psychological community regarding how to classify different types of anxiety disorders. For decades before the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-5] in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association [APA] classified the following under the broad umbrella of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], social anxiety disorder [SAD], panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD]. The DSM-5 anxiety disorder, however, removed OCD category and listed it on its own, along with other related disorders.

The prevalence of anxiety is still a component of OCD, and the DSM-5 acknowledges this. The manual focuses more, however, on the differences.

“The trademark of OCD is a behavioral aspect that is not necessarily present in anxiety disorders” said Anya Shumilina, a director at Behavioral Associates, a center that specializes in providing cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT]. “Individuals diagnosed with OCD are known to engage in rigid compulsive and repetitive behaviors, such as switching lights on and off 10 times before leaving the house, to alleviate stress brought by obsessive thinking.”

On the other hand, people with anxiety disorders are not likely to use these behaviors to cope. Anxiety disorders also tend to emphasize concrete worries and concerns, Shumilina said, including losing one’s job for specific reasons. OCD, however, often involves obsessions with vague fears such as germs.

Despite the APA’s decision to exclude OCD from the anxiety disorders category, there are still many mental health professionals who consider it an anxiety disorder or treat it as such.

The split in the field of psychology may cause confusion, but there might be benefits to continuing to treat OCD and other disorders under the umbrella of anxiety. Mental health professionals often overlook screening for disorders that are not officially anxiety disorders but have strong symptoms of anxiety, according to Dr. Shanthi Mogali, Director of Psychiatry at Mountainside Treatment Facility. These include OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. By including these disorders under the umbrella of anxiety, people might be more likely to receive the treatment they need. Fortunately treatments for anxiety disorders and OCD tend to be similar.

To be both inclusive and mindful of the APA’s decision, we made a comprehensive list of the different types of anxiety disorders. We also included suggestions from Andrea G. Batton, Director of the Maryland Anxiety Center, based on her clinical experience and knowledge of DSM-5 anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder [GAD]

GAD involves a constant and intense feeling of anxiety regarding anything. People with GAD struggle to control their worries. They tend to anticipate some sort of disaster, despite a lack of evidence.

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Social Anxiety Disorder

With social anxiety disorder, people have an intense fear of others judging them in social or performance situations. They are terrified of potential embarrassment or humiliation. The anxiety can be extreme to the point of inhibiting the ability to socialize, date, or travel.

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Selective Mutism in Children

Related to SAD is selective mutism in children, an anxiety disorder where a child experiences an inability to speak in certain social settings such as school. More than 90% of children with selective mutism also have social anxiety, according to the Selective Mutism, Anxiety and Related Disorders Treatment Center.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder involves experiencing panic attacks that appear out of nowhere and occur unexpectedly. The attacks are so intense they create anxiety about experiencing them in the future.

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Despite common misconceptions, agoraphobia does not necessarily involve a fear of leaving home. Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which people fear and avoid places or situations that might cause them to panic or feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed, according to the Mayo Clinic. They fear an actual or anticipated situation such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd.

Agoraphobia often occurs with panic disorder, so many mental health organizations list them together. For example, if panic attacks happen in a specific place, the sufferer might avoid that place and develop agoraphobia. In extreme cases the sufferer could perceive anywhere outside his or her home as a space of anxiety.

Specific Phobias

People with specific phobias avoid places, situations, objects, and even types of people — clowns, for example — even if there is no threat or danger. Phobias do not necessarily stem from trauma involving the object in question. They usually develop suddenly and without obvious explanation. Simply thinking about a phobia can cause anxiety.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Someone has separation anxiety disorder when he or she experiences high levels of distress when separated from a caregiver. This distress is so extreme it interferes with functioning and social interactions. Most of the people who have the disorder are children and adolescents. There are, however, some rare cases where adults develop it.

Illness Anxiety Disorder [Hypochondria, Health Anxiety Disorder]

People with illness anxiety disorder worry excessively about becoming ill or severely ill. Even after medical tests indicate health, they sometimes believe normal sensations or minor symptoms are signs of severe illnesses. Ironically, their anxiety regarding illness can often make them feel physically sick.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder [OCD]

OCD is a disorder in which a person has uncontrollable recurring thoughts [obsessions] and behaviors [compulsions] they feel the urge to repeat excessively. Rather than anxiety, during their compulsions some people with OCD experience a feeling of disgust or something not being right.

Nonetheless, anxiety can sometimes be a crucial factor in the development of OCD. For example, someone with OCD might have an intense anxiety that something bad will happen if they do not perform their compulsive behaviors such as switching a light switch on and off.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]

PTSD involves an extended period of extreme stress and fight-or-flight responses that occur repeatedly despite there being no stressor. Stimuli such as a car door slamming can trigger PTSD symptoms. Sometimes people develop PTSD after experiencing trauma such as sexual assault or nearly losing their lives. PTSD can also develop without any significant trauma, however.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, adults must have several symptoms that demonstrate the illness’ impact. Anxiety is a common symptom as well.

Anxiety is the Common Factor

Even if not all mental health professionals consider these illnesses different types of DSM-V anxiety disorders, anxiety is the common factor in all of them. If you are looking for a professional to diagnose or treat you for one or more of these DSM-V anxiety disorders, remember to address anxiety along with other issues.

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Commonly Asked Questions

Common anxiety disorders include:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): a continuous, intense feeling of general anxiety that can often lead to developing pessimistic predictions about the future, despite a lack of evidence.
  2. Social Anxiety Disorder: occurs when someone is fearful of being judged in social and professional situations. It often inhibits them from socializing, dating, and traveling.
  3. Panic Disorder: if an individual suffers from intense and unpredictable panic attacks, this disorder refers to the anxiety they feel towards experiencing them in the future.
  4. Specific Phobias: inhibits people from approaching certain places, situations, objects, and even types of people, like clowns, even when there is no danger. It doesn’t necessarily stem from past trauma.
  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): when an individual feels the urge to excessively repeat uncontrollable recurring thoughts and behaviors. Some report feeling disgust rather than anxiety.
  6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): involves suffering from extreme stress and fight-or-flight responses triggered by some stimuli, despite there being no stressor.

Anxiety disorders are characterized by symptoms such as excessive rumination and recurring undesired thoughts. However, anxiety can manifest through indicators that are more subtle. If you often feel irritated by the people around you, struggle to make decisions, experience lack of appetite or stomach aches, or have trouble sleeping at night, then you might be suffering from anxiety. If you feel that your restlessness takes a toll on your daily activities, professional life, and relationships, then you might want to consider consulting a professional regarding an anxiety test.

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