Anxiety disorders are common mental health disorders — the criteria for anxiety disorders have changed from the DSM-4 to the DSM-5.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common psychiatric disorders worldwide. Phobias are categorized as anxiety disorders, with specific phobia (fear of something that poses little or no actual danger) being the most common anxiety disorder.

If you experience anxiety, it can be overwhelming and exhausting. Anxiety disorders often have high comorbidity with other mental health disorders. There are various treatments for anxiety disorders, and the treatment may look different based on the type of anxiety disorder.

In the anxiety disorders section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), there are 11 anxiety disorders and a panic attack specifier that can be used for other mental health disorders. The previous version of the DSM, the DSM-4, outlined 12 categories of anxiety disorders.

There were several changes to the DSM-5 classification of anxiety disorders. Panic disorder and agoraphobia (fear of places or situations that might cause panic) were previously linked in the DSM-4 and are now separate disorders with differing criteria.

The DSM-5 also added separation anxiety and selective mutism (inability to speak in particular social situations) in the anxiety disorders section.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) also removed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the anxiety disorders section in the DSM-5. OCD in the DSM-5 now falls under obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, and PTSD falls under trauma and stressor-related disorders.

Of the 11 anxiety disorders in the DSM-5, approximately 7.3% of individuals globally live with one of these disorders.

Separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by a persistent fear of being away from home or without an attachment figure. This usually causes the person significant distress, and they may have difficulty going to school or work due to the separation.

People with separation anxiety disorder may also be prone to nightmares or have excessive anxiety about unwelcome events happening to their attachment figure.

Separation anxiety was a new addition to the DSM-5 categorization of anxiety disorders. It was previously listed under conditions that occur in childhood. The change was due to 2016 research that supported a high prevalence of separation anxiety in adults.

Selective mutism

Selective mutism is generally seen in children. The disorder refers to the inability to speak in specific social situations. Selective mutism can last into adulthood if a child does not receive treatment. Selective mutism is different than a communication disorder.

Selective mutism typically first appears at a crucial moment in a child’s life, such as beginning preschool. For a diagnosis of selective mutism, it must be present for at least 1 month.

Selective mutism was an addition to the DSM-5. It was previously listed under disorders that occur in childhood.

Specific phobia

Specific phobia is when a person experiences extreme anxiety when they anticipate exposure or are exposed to a feared stimulus. There are generally five categories of specific phobias:

  • animal type (spiders, snakes, dogs)
  • natural environment type (tornadoes, heights, water, fire)
  • blood injection type (Needles, medical procedures)
  • situational type (flying on an airplane, enclosed spaces)
  • other type (phobias that do not fit into the previous four categories)

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by extreme fear of social situations. If you experience social anxiety, you may feel an extreme fear of criticism or scrutiny by others in social interactions. This intense fear often leads to avoidance of the social situation and can cause impairments in school, work, or relationships.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a common mental health condition in which a person experiences recurrent panic attacks. If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, you may experience an extreme surge of fear and discomfort due to a perceived loss of control. There is often not a specific trigger to the panic attack.

Physical symptoms that may signal the presence of a panic attack include:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • racing heart
  • shaking
  • trembling
  • sweating
  • chills
  • unsteadiness
  • shortness of breath
  • the sensation of choking
  • chest pain
  • abdominal pain
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of dying

The APA changed panic disorder in the DSM-5 as it was previously linked with agoraphobia and is now a separate diagnosis.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when an individual experiences persistent worry about everyday challenges out of proportion to the perceived threat. People with GAD usually experience excessive fear that can last months to years.

GAD can cause significant problems with concentration. If you have GAD, you may experience trouble controlling your worrying and be aware that you are worrying too much.


Agoraphobia is a fear of situations or places that may cause feelings of panic, entrapment, helplessness, or embarrassment.

If you have agoraphobia, you may have difficulty leaving your house. Fears of crowds, traveling, elevators, movie theatres, malls, etc., might cause significant challenges.

People with agoraphobia may also have recurrent panic attacks, and the thought of leaving the house may cause considerable anxiety to the point of avoidance.

Agoraphobia is an addition to the DSM-5 as it was previously linked with panic disorder. Agoraphobia now has separate criteria.

Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder

Substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder in which anxiety or panic occurs after using alcohol, drugs, or medication. This can occur during the intoxication or withdrawal phases of using a substance or medication.

To be diagnosed with a substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder, you cannot have experienced anxiety before you started taking the substance, even if that substance made your anxiety symptoms worse.

Anxiety disorder due to another medical condition

Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition occurs when a medical condition causes extreme fear, anxiety, or panic. If you have anxiety or worry about your medical condition, this is not considered an anxiety disorder.

This diagnosis is used only if anxiety and panic symptoms are present due to your medical condition.

An example of this would be if you began to experience panic attacks due to your diagnosed thyroid disease. This is also referred to as comorbid anxiety.

Other specified anxiety disorder

Other specified anxiety disorder may be diagnosed if you have most but not all of the criteria for an anxiety disorder. For example, anxiety often causes significant distress, but a few of the symptoms to meet the full standards are not met.

Unspecified anxiety disorder

Unspecified anxiety disorder is often diagnosed if you experience anxiety or panic but don’t meet the full criteria for the symptoms of another anxiety disorder. It is often used in hospitals or other settings when there may be a lack of information to make a complete diagnosis.

The APA publishes and updates the DSM on an irregular basis. The DSM has been revised seven times since its first publication in 1952. The DSM-5 update was a lengthy process that lasted nearly a decade and was based on research, a panel of experts, and conferences to review the strength and evidence of the proposed updates.

According to the APA, changes to the DSM-5 were based on the clinical knowledge of experts in the mental health field and advances in field research.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you may experience challenges with daily living. For example, work, school, and relationships may become challenging due to excessive worry or panic.

Anxiety disorders can be treated, often with psychotherapy and medication. If you have an anxiety disorder, help is available. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also offers helpful resources and education for managing anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are common mental health disorders, but you don’t have to face them alone.