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Anxiety disorders

Types of anxiety disorders

These are the most common types of anxiety disorders.

Generalised anxiety disorder

People with generalised anxiety disorder worry much of the time about all sorts of everyday things – to do with work, finances, health or family for example. They worry something terrible might happen, even if there's no real reason to think so.

They can't stop feeling anxious, even though it's affecting their life.

For example, they might not want to drive a car because they're worried about having an accident.

They often ask for reassurance that the terrible things they fear won't happen.

People with generalised anxiety disorder don't sleep well, and often complain of headaches and muscle tension in their necks and shoulders.

Social anxiety disorder

Someone with social anxiety disorder worries about other people noticing their anxiety and thinking less of them because of it.

Being the centre of attention is a problem for them.

For example, they might feel anxious about:

  • meeting new people
  • speaking or performing in front of other people
  • going to meetings or parties
  • catching public transport
  • being watched while eating or drinking.

They worry that they might do something embarrassing, or that other people might notice that they're anxious. They will avoid situations where other people could notice their anxiety.

Normal shyness isn't social anxiety disorder.

Anxiety creeps in over a long period of time. I think I lived with anxiety for years and years before I knew what it was.

Louise, Sydney

Panic disorder

Someone with a panic disorder has repeated panic attacks, which seem to happen for no particular reason, and then they worry a lot about having more panic attacks.

A panic attack is a sudden surge of fear or anxiety in situations where others would not be afraid.


Agoraphobia is when someone is very fearful about certain situations, because they're afraid that they might have a panic attack, or something awful might happen to them. They then go out of their way to avoid these situations.

Someone with agoraphobia would be very anxious about:

  • using buses, trains, trams, or planes
  • being in open spaces (car parks, bridges, parks)
  • being in enclosed places (shopping centres, cinemas)
  • being in a crowd.

Specific phobia

If someone is very fearful of one particular thing or situation, they might have a specific phobia.

People can have phobias about things such as:

  • animals – for example spiders or dogs
  • flying in aeroplanes
  • heights
  • getting an injection.

The fear is usually out of proportion to the actual danger, and can cause problems with people's day-to-day lives. For example, someone might refuse to go for a walk in the park because they're worried about dogs.

Problems that are related to anxiety disorders are PTSD and OCD.

Understand that for them they're having a really awful experience, even if on the outside they can just seem a bit tense.

Brian, Whangarei

Page last reviewed April 2017 | C1025V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.