What Are the Different Types of Anxiety?

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Anxiety is a common problem for many American adults. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common types of mental health conditions in the United States, affecting almost 20% of all adults. Anxiety is also common among children and adolescents.

However, not all anxiety is the same. The butterflies you feel in your stomach before giving a presentation at work feel very different than the sense of dread and foreboding you might feel when watching the nightly news. The source of your anxiety influences how you might experience it. It also impacts how you might go about addressing it. 

Anxiety can have different causes, which means that each type of anxiety may require different solutions.

Understanding the different types of anxiety and which one you are experiencing can offer you insight into why you feel the way you do.

Anticipatory Anxiety

Anticipatory anxiety refers to the feelings of fear that you experience before an event. While it is normal to feel stress about future events, anticipatory anxiety involves an excessive worry about the future.

A certain degree of stress can be adaptive and help you perform your best. When this anxiety becomes severe, it can be debilitating. This type of anxiety might cause you to become overly focused on adverse outcomes. It can also be all-consuming and long-lasting.

Instead of feeling a little nervous right before an event, you might find yourself overwhelmed with feelings of worry and fear for weeks or months beforehand.

You might experience this type of anxiety in response to a wide variety of events, including:

  • Social events
  • Romantic dates
  • Work meetings
  • Presentations or public speaking engagements
  • Job interviews
  • Athletic events
  • Musical performances

While it might involve anxiety about upcoming events, it can also occur in response to everyday occurrences. For example, you might experience anxiety about driving to work or catching the train.

Anticipatory anxiety is not a distinct mental health condition. Instead, it is often a symptom of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder.

One way to deal with anticipatory anxiety is to try relabeling your emotions. Instead of calling your feelings nervousness or anxiety, work on reframing them as excitement and anticipation. For example, instead of saying “I’m nervous,” you would say, “I’m so excited.” 

This technique, known as anxiety reappraisal, is an effective strategy that helps people change their interpretations of physical arousal symptoms.

Generalized Anxiety

Generalized anxiety is a chronic and exaggerated worry that occurs without having a specific source. This type of anxiety is also sometimes referred to as free-floating anxiety.

People who experience this type of anxiety spend a lot of time worrying about a wide variety of future events. Such anxiety may center on health, social interactions, work, relationships, and everyday events.

If a person experiences excessive worry that interferes with essential areas of life and lasts most days for longer than six months, they may be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Some symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Always feeling on edge
  • Always thinking of the worst possible outcome in every situation
  • An inability to stop worrying
  • Problems coping with uncertainty
  • Problems concentrating
  • Worries that are out of proportion to the actual danger

Generalized anxiety tends to be twice as common in women as in men. Women tend to experience anxiety disorders at higher rates, so experts suggest that women and girls over the age of 13 should be screened during routine health exams.

If you experience generalized anxiety, you should talk to a primary healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can determine if your symptoms meet the generalized anxiety disorder diagnostic criteria. They can also recommend effective treatments, including psychotherapy and medications.

Finding strategies to help cope with generalized anxiety can also be helpful. Finding social support, practicing mindfulness, and learning emotional acceptance may be helpful.

Panic

Panic is a type of anxiety that involves sudden and intense feelings of fear. When a person experiences a panic attack, they may experience racing heartbeat, chest pain, trembling, sweating, a sense of impending doom, feeling out of control, or feeling as if they are dying. 

Panic attacks are a symptom of an anxiety disorder known as panic disorder. People with this condition worry that they will have a panic attack in the future, so they often avoid places or situations where they think they might experience feelings of panic.

Treatments for panic disorder include medications and psychotherapy. Healthcare providers may prescribe antidepressants or benzodiazepines to treat symptoms of panic. Antidepressants tend to take longer to work and can lessen feelings of anxiety over time. Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, are fast-acting and can help reduce symptoms of acute anxiety.

Learning relaxation techniques can also be helpful when you feel yourself beginning to experience symptoms of panic. Deep breathing can be particularly helpful since people often engage in rapid, shallow breathing when they are panicked.

Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety involves anxiety related to a person's ability to perform a specific task. Sometimes known as stage fright, this type of anxiety emerges when a person is expected to perform a task, such as giving a speech or competing in an athletic event. 

Common symptoms of performance anxiety include trembling, stomach upset, nausea, shortness of breath, and an increased number of mistakes while performing. Escape behaviors, such as finding an excuse to avoid the task or performance, may also occur.

Types of performance anxiety can include:

Sometimes this type of anxiety involves mild nervousness. To a certain point, feeling a little stress can help improve performance.

When you are stressed, your body goes into a state of alert, known as the fight or flight response. This response prepares you both physically and mentally to handle the situation.

However, when this anxiety becomes excessive, it can negatively affect performance. You might forget important details, get distracted, or be completely unable to perform. In some cases, stage fright can lead to panic attacks.

Phobia-Related Anxiety

Sometimes anxiety can result from a phobia, which is an intense and exaggerated fear of a specific object or situation. Common examples of specific phobias include feeling extreme fear in response to blood, flying, heights, needles, spiders, or snakes. 

When people have a phobia, they may experience a great deal of anxiety and worry about potentially encountering the source of their fear. 

They will also take steps to avoid what they are afraid of, often in ways that limit their ability to function normally. For example, a person might stop leaving their house altogether because they are so worried about coming into contact with the thing they fear. 

Exposure therapy can be very effective for this type of anxiety. In exposure treatments, a person is gradually exposed to the source of their fear in a safe, controlled manner.

This exposure may also be paired with a variety of relaxation techniques so that people can replace anxiety with calmer responses.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety involves excessive anxiety in response to being separated from a caregiver, loved one, or another attachment figure. It is often associated with early childhood, but it can also occur at other points throughout life.

This type of anxiety is a normal and healthy part of child development that typically occurs between eight and 14 months. It is regarded as a normal part of development up until age two. Signs of this type of anxiety include excessive crying, clinginess, and refusal to interact with others after a parent or caregiver leaves.

When this anxiety occurs after age two, it may be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder. It can also affect adults. Signs of the condition include excessive distress, worry, and reluctance when separated from an attachment figure. 

Separation anxiety can sometimes occur during times of stress or transition. Starting school, going to college, moving to a new town, or starting a new job might trigger feelings of this type of anxiety.

Situational Anxiety

Situational anxiety is a type of anxiety that is triggered by certain situations. Many people experience this type of anxiety from time to time. For example, you might feel situational anxiety on the first day at a new job or before an important presentation at work. 

When facing something that causes feelings of situational anxiety, you might experience a range of symptoms. For example, you might have trouble sleeping or have an upset stomach. Muscle tension, diarrhea, nausea, sweating, and restlessness are also common. 

People can often deal with this type of anxiety using relaxation techniques like deep breathing or visualization. Being well-prepared for the situation can also be helpful.

For example, if you know that you will be anxious during an upcoming job interview, practicing the interview and being prepared to answer questions can make you feel less anxious.

Social Anxiety

If the thought of having to make small talk with a room full of strangers makes you feel tense and anxious, then you might be experiencing social anxiety. Social anxiety is commonly defined as a fear of social situations. However, it can manifest in several different ways.

For some people, social anxiety is primarily triggered by unfamiliar social situations. This might involve meeting new people in situations such as job interviews or work-related events. Sometimes this anxiety only occurs during high-pressure moments, such as giving a speech in front of a large group of people.

In other cases, however, people find themselves experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety in almost every social encounter. Everyday activities like answering the phone or eating in a public place can become daunting or scary.

Social anxiety can cause a range of physical and cognitive symptoms. For example, during an anxiety-inducing social situation, you might experience physical symptoms such as blushing, shortness of breath, dry mouth, and a trembling voice.

Negative thoughts and beliefs are also common. You might tell yourself that everyone is judging you or that you aren't interesting enough.

As a result of this fear, people often begin avoiding situations that lead to feelings of anxiety. The problem is that this strategy leads to isolation and loneliness. It also tends to make social anxiety worse. If a person's social anxiety is persistent and disrupts their daily functioning, they may be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder.

So what does work for combatting this type of anxiety? While each person’s needs are different, practicing social skills is often very effective. By becoming more skilled at talking to other people, people become more confident in social situations.

A Word From Verywell

Anxiety is a common problem for many people, but not all anxiety is the same. It's important to recognize the type of anxiety you are experiencing so that you can understand what is causing it. 

If anxiety is causing disruptions in your life and making it hard to function, talk to a primary healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Because anxiety often worsens over time, acting early can help you find relief and minimize the detrimental effects on your life.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.