Which type of anxiety disorder is most common?

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Anxiety disorders are the most widespread mental health conditions. Anxiety disorders often lead to high healthcare costs and implicate ongoing daily management for sufferers. [1]

A 2015 study from Bandelow and Michaelis indicates that up to 33.7% of the national population are impacted by an anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetime. [1]

Below follows a discussion of some common anxiety disorders.

Most common types of anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

The most common type of anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Affecting 6.8 million adults across the United States – or 3.1% of the population. However, only 43.2% of people affected are receiving treatment. [2]

The primary symptom of GAD is an unwarranted and excessive worry about daily activities and events. In addition to a pervasive sense of anxiety, you may feel on edge or hyper-alert to your surroundings if you are a GAD sufferer. [3]

Physical symptoms include muscle tension, excessive fidgeting, and sweating. [3]

Relative to other brain disorders, GAD has the latest median onset, at 31 years of age. [1] Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. [2]

GAD is highly comorbid with other anxiety and mental disorders [1], such as depression. [2]

GAD can be hard to diagnose, as it doesn’t have any uniquely telling symptoms. [3] Your doctor may say you have GAD if anxiety has negatively impacted your daily life most days over a 6-month period. [3]

Panic disorder

Panic disorder affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the population, in the United States. [2].

Sufferers of panic disorder are subjected to regular panic attacks that come about with no discernible trigger. [3]

These panic attacks come on suddenly and intensely and can feel very distressing. [3]. It is possible to dissociate from your body during a panic attack and feel detached from yourself – almost as though your body does not belong to you. [3] This can feel extremely disconcerting.

Panic disorder symptoms include: [3]

  • Overwhelming sensation of dread and/or fear
  • Chest pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feeling that you could be having a heart attack
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth and shortness of breath
  • Nausea, dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • Stomach churning sensation.
  • Ears ringing

Women are twice as likely to be affected by panic disorders as men. [2]

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is equally common among men and women, typically beginning at age 13. [2]

Whilst worrying about certain social or performance situations can feel nerve wracking to all of us, these are different propositions to what SAD sufferers face. Having an intense fear or dread of all social situations is the essence of social anxiety disorder, and this can happen before, during, or after an event. [3]

A person suffering from SAD can obsess over whether they will act in an embarrassing or self-detrimental way, and this can manifest in the presentation of physical symptoms. These include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaky voice
  • Blushing

You may feel fixated on the prospect of others judging you, and this can result in shunning certain social situations. You may sense your fears aren’t rational but controlling them can feel very difficult. [3]

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Characterized by obsessions and compulsions, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 2.5 million adults, or 1.2%, of US society. Women are 3 times as likely to be affected by men, and the average onset is 19, with 25% of people suffering symptoms from the age of 14. [2]

An obsession is a recurring unsolicited thought or mental image. They can feel intrusive, unwelcome, and hard to ignore. [3] Additionally, they can be disturbing, which can feel exasperating, distressing and anxiety inducing.

A compulsion is a repetitive habit performed to alleviate anxiety. [3] For example, a phrase you repeat in your head to calm down or an ingrained idiosyncratic movement such as tugging your ear.

You may believe that there will be negative consequences if you don’t carry out your compulsions, and whilst you can recognize your behavior isn’t rational, it is difficult to stop. [3]

Speak to a mental health professional if you think you have OCD, and they can discuss potential treatment options.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

7.7 million adults, or 3.6% of the US population, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). [2] Women are typically five times as prone to diagnosis as men. [2]

Rape is widely considered to be the most likely reason for PTSD, with 65% of men and 45% women who are raped going on to develop the disorder. [2]

Childhood sexual abuse is a key indicator of the lifetime likelihood of developing PTSD [2]

Traditionally seen in war veterans, terror-inducing experiences such as violence, accident or natural disaster can all precipitate a PTSD diagnosis. [4]

Symptoms include traumatic memories or dreams, pervasive sense of anxiety, sleep problems, an avoidance of anything reminiscent of the traumatic event, isolating oneself.

PTSD can be treated with a range of therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy. Talk to your doctor if you believe you may be suffering from PTSD and they can advise you on what steps you should take next.

  1. Bandelow, B., & Michaelis, S. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17(3), 327–335. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2015.17.3/bbandelow
  2. Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
  3. Mental Health UK. (2022, April 12). Types of anxiety – Mental Health UK. https://mentalhealth-uk.org/help-and-information/conditions/anxiety-disorders/types/#:~:text=Generalised%20anxiety%20disorder%20(GAD),about%20different%20activities%20and%20events.
  4. Mental Health UK. (2019, April 26). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Mental Health UK. http://mhuk-test.designby.glass/help-and-information/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri is a medical writer with a non-profit sector background, committed to raising awareness about mental health.

Published: Jun 21st 2023, Last edited: Nov 10th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jun 21st 2023