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Author – Susan Sluiter (M.A. RAU) – Clinical Psychologist, Trainer

Different types of anxiety disorders


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5)

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition(DSM-5), [2] anxiety disorders include disorders that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioural disturbances. These disorders include separation anxiety disorder, selective mutism, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder, and anxiety disorder due to another medical condition. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (included in the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders), acute stress disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (included in the trauma and stress-related disorders) are no longer considered anxiety disorders as they were in the previous version of the DSM. However, these disorders are closely related to anxiety disorders and the sequential order of these chapters in the DSM-5 reflects this close relationship.


List of anxiety disorders as classified by the DSM 5

  • Separation anxiety disorder

  • Selective mutism

  • Specific phobia

  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

  • Panic disorder

  • Agoraphobia

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder

  • Anxiety disorder due to medical conditions.


The different anxiety disorders explained

You can click on the link above to for the psychiatric diagnostic criteria of the different stipulated anxiety disorders.  I will give a brief simplistic explanation of the different anxiety disorders in this article.


Separation Anxiety Disorder

This anxiety disorder is usually prevalent in childhood and usually starts in childhood.  Separation anxiety can be seen as normal but if separation from a particular person, animal or object causes severe and intense anxiety over long periods of time; it could be seen as a separation anxiety disorder. Some people with separation anxiety disorder might experience intense symptoms in childhood and then outgrow this as they get older.  In some people childhood separation anxiety disorder can extend into adulthood.  The typical signs of separation anxiety disorder in young children are a refusal to leave their mothers or primary identified nurturers.  Children with separation anxiety disorder will usually try to cling to their mothers when they are leaving or cry when they leave the room.  They will also typically cry when they are dropped off at day-care, preschool or primary school and their adjustment to this context will be extremely difficult.  In adults, separation anxiety can be seen as a fear of being separated from a person, or even an animal that they have become emotionally attached to.  They will experience the symptoms of anxiety when they are forced to be separated from the particular person or object for different periods of time.


Selective Mutism

Selective mutism usually starts in childhood.  It is typified by an inability to talk in front of certain people or certain groups of people. A child with selective mutism will for instance be unable to talk in the classroom or on the school grounds, but will be able to talk to their family members at home or to selected friends.  It would appear to others as if the child is completely mute, but this is not the case as the mutism is selective.  This disorder can extend into adulthood, leaving the individual with a severe and debilitating anxiety to talk in certain social contexts.


Specific Phobia

A phobia is a severely anxiety provoking and irrational fear of a specific living thing or an object or an activity.  There is a very long list of specific phobias such as misophobia (anxiety for chewing noises), acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (anxiety in small spaces), arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and the list goes on.  Phobias do not make any logical sense to others as the fear is typically irrational, but the fear is intense and debilitating to the individual.  Most intense phobias results in panic attacks at exposure to the specific object, living thing or activity.


Social Anxiety

When a person suffers from social anxiety, he/she will typically feel intense levels of anxiety when confronted with certain social situations.  There are different degrees of social anxiety and the triggering context can be unique for different individuals.  Some people with social anxiety might feel intense anxiety and even get a panic attack in any social context where there is more than one person present and this might be the case even if it’s around familiar people such as family members as well.  Other people may only feel intense anxiety when they are surrounded by strangers and feel anxiety free when they are around family members.  Most people with social anxiety will feel different levels of anxiety when confronted with any new social situation. A lot of people who suffers from social anxiety are unable to talk in front of a group of people. Social anxiety often starts in childhood but it can develop in adulthood as well.



Panic Disorder

A diagnosis of panic disorder can be made when a person experiences intense attacks of anxiety.  The anxiety resulting from a panic attack is so severe that a lot of people experiencing their first panic attack end up visiting the emergency room due to a fear that they might be dying or is having a heart attack. A panic attack can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and is typified by difficulty in breathing, shaking, dizziness, trembling, disorientation, nausea, stomach pain, pins and needles, contracting muscles, headache, sweating and intense fear.  All of the physical manifestations of acute anxiety can be present simultaneously.  The after effects of a panic attacks include tiredness, muscle pains, headaches and exhaustion.  Panic disorder is a severe and debilitating disorder and results in a fear of having another panic attack as the triggers are in some cases not clear and a fear develops that the panic attack can happen unexpectedly.  Panic disorder can start in childhood or in adulthood. Panic attacks can be present daily or intermittently. 



This disorder is a phobia for open spaces and leaving ones familiar area.  Agoraphobia usually starts as a result of panic attacks, leading to a person attempting to avoid anything that could trigger another panic attacks.  People who suffer from agoraphobia will experience intense anxiety when they leave their homes for instance and could have a panic attack when they do so.  People with agoraphobia will feel intensely anxious in most open spaces such as parking areas and being outdoors.











Generalized Anxiety Disorder


The typical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are excessive worrying and a chronic feeling of impending doom.  A person with GAD might explain that they feel extremely worried all the time but that they cannot place their finger on what is causing the worrying. It might feel to them that something bad is going to happen.  It is typified by a general restlessness, feeling of anxiety, fear and worry.

Substance/Medication Induced Anxiety and Anxiety Caused by a Medical Condition


Some recreational substances and generic medications can cause anxiety and even panic attacks.  It is important for your psychiatrist or medical doctor to determine whether anything that is taken, is causing your anxiety.  Some medical conditions such as high or low blood pressure, high or low sugar levels, thyroid problems or heart problems and others can cause anxiety.  It is important to have a thorough medical examination done when you suffer from high levels of anxiety to rule out any medical causes of anxiety.