Anxiety Versus Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is an inevitable part of life in contemporary society. It's important to realize that there are many situations that come up in everyday life in which it is appropriate and reasonable to react with some anxiety, such as giving a speech, a job interview, or dealing with an angry supervisor at work. If you didn't feel any anxiety in response to everyday challenges involving potential threat, loss or failure, something would be wrong. Normal anxiety helps you by gearing you up to better cope with a demanding situation.

In contrast to normal anxiety, anxiety disorders disrupt your ability to cope and deal with daily life. Anxiety disorders are distinguished from everyday, normal anxiety in that they involve anxiety that 1) is more intense (for example, panic attacks), 2) lasts longer (anxiety that may persist for weeks or months instead of going away after a stressful situation has passed), or 3) leads to phobias that interfere with your life. An anxiety disorder may lead you to feel anxious most of the time and/or keep you from engaging in activities or situations you used to handle with ease.

Criteria for diagnosing specific anxiety disorders have been established by the American Psychiatric Association and are listed in a well-known diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals. This manual is called the DSM–5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—fifth edition, updated in 2013). The following descriptions of various anxiety disorders are based on the criteria in the DSM–5.

This site can help you even if your specific anxiety disorder or reaction doesn’t fit any of the DSM–5’s diagnostic categories. On the other hand, don’t be unduly concerned if your reaction is perfectly described by one of the diagnostic categories. Approximately 15 percent of adults and 20 percent of adolescents in the United States would find themselves in your company.

This website describes anxiety disorders pertinent to adolescents and adults. Readers interested in anxiety disorders specific to children, such as separation anxiety disorder or selective mutism, should explore descriptions of them in DSM-V and consult books specializing in children’s anxiety disorders.

The current list of anxiety disorders described in DSM-5 include: