Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental disorders that involves excessive fear and is associated with muscle tension and avoidance behaviour.

Specialist Behaviour Support Services and Speech Pathology

schoolgirl alone displaying signs of Anxiety Disorder

Definition of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental disorders that involves excessive fear and is associated with muscle tension and avoidance behaviour. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-V) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), is a handbook that is used by professionals around the world to diagnose mental disorders.

The DSM–V states that anxiety becomes disordered when the fear and the worry is out of proportion to the situation at hand. The overestimation of the danger in the situation and the fear of being embarrassed, humiliated, or failing is so great that anxiety symptoms become more intense, persistent and chronic. Also, the anxiety is beyond that which would be expected for the individual’s developmental level and interferes with social, academic, occupation or other areas of functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). 

All of us experience some degree of anxiety (i.e. fear and worry) from time to time. When faced with a stressful situation (e.g. first day of school, attending a job interview or preparing for an exam), it is expected, normal and useful to experience a little bit of anxiety. Anxiety increases our alertness, energy and focus, which improves our performance. Anxiety experienced within the normal range is short lived and we return to a calm state when the stressful situation is over.

For help with managing anxiety, read the blog 'Strategies for Managing Anxiety'.

Types of Anxiety Disorder

Below are some of the common types of Anxiety Disorders with a brief definition of each:

  • Separation anxiety disorder: excessive fear and worry about anticipated or actual separation from caregiver(s).
  • Selective mutism: excessive fear or anxiety resulting in an inability to speak in some social situations, despite being able to speak in other situations.
  • Specific phobia: excessive, irrational fear or anxiety about or avoidance of facing a specific object, or situation.
  • Social anxiety disorder: excessive fear or anxiety about or avoidance of social or performance situations that involve the possibility of negative judgements and evaluation by others which may result in embarrassment, humiliation, rejection or causing offence to others.
  • Panic disorder: characterised by sudden and repeated episodes of intense fear and panic attacks.
  • Generalised anxiety disorder: excessive and persistent worry about different aspects of life.

Causes of Anxiety Disorder

There is no single cause, rather a number of risk factors that contribute to its development. Some of the factors include:

  • Genetics (i.e. differences in one’s genetic code and/or inherited genes) that make the individual vulnerable to developing anxiety disorder.
  • Brain chemistry (i.e. imbalance in chemicals in the brain that regulate feelings and physical reactions).
  • Personality factors (e.g. being a perfectionist, having low self-esteem, becoming easily flustered or wanting to control everything).
  • Medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, thyroid problems, heart disease and respiratory disorders).
  • Stressful events such as loss (e.g. death of a loved one or a pet, parents’ divorce), major life change (e.g. change of school, moving to a different school, moving to a new country) and leading a high stress lifestyle (e.g. individual is doing too many extracurricular activities).
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

The individual may exhibit some, or all of following:

  • Showing excessive fear, concern or worry about particular tasks, situations or places.
  • Avoiding particular subjects, activities, or places.
  • Appearing extremely self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations.
  • Refusing to join in particular subjects, activities or places.
  • Socially isolating oneself; withdrawing or appearing very shy in social situations.
  • Often asks to go to sick bay due to physical complaints (e.g. headaches, stomach aches).
  • Trouble with concentrating, appear distracted or forgetful.
  • Requiring lots of reassurance.
  • Get easily frustrated and is reluctant to ask for help.
  • Being a perfectionist or procrastinating and taking longer to complete a task.
  • Declining performance.
  • Engaging in unhealthy, risky or self-destructive behaviour (e.g. drug or alcohol abuse).
  • Being very sensitive to perceived or real criticism and corrective feedback.



American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.



Behaviour Help

If you are supporting an individual with this diagnosis, please refer to our services and resources. They aim to help children, adolescents and adults achieve better communication, social, emotional, behavioural and learning outcomes. So whether you are wanting guidance on parenting, teaching, supporting or providing therapy, Behaviour Help is at hand.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all the possible causes, symptoms and types but some general information that can be further explored. Based on what you have read if you have any concerns about an individual, please raise them with the individual/s. The caregiver can then raise these concerns with their local doctor who can provide a referral to the relevant professional (e.g. paediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, allied health professional and learning specialists) for diagnosis and treatment if appropriate.

Which resources are right for you?


Based on the Taking CHARGE of Rainbow of Emotions Workbook this app helps children of all ages develop emotional regulation skills. The app guides the child to firstly, identify and express their emotion in appropriate ways. Then the child is guided to use emotional management tool/s from the CHARGE tool kit to manage their emotions in a healthy way.

The acronym CHARGE stands for the different categories of emotional management tools – Chat tools, Helpful thinking tools, Amusement tools, Relaxation tools, Good routine tools and Exercise tools.

Behaviour Help App - Using the evidence-based approach of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), the Behaviour Help web-based app allows people supporting individuals with emotional and behavioural difficulties to complete a Functional Behaviour Analysis and put together a comprehensive Behaviour Support Plan (BSP). The BSP can then be used by everyone interacting with the individual to manage and prevent challenging behaviours and ultimately improve their lives, and the lives of those who support them.


If you want to learn more about emotional and behavioural difficulties then we have a great range of books you can read on your Kindle or order from Amazon.


Personalised and practical one to one help tailored specifically to your family.

Online Courses

Access these online courses anytime online to learn about a range of diagnoses, practical skills and strategies to help develop the individual’s emotional regulation skills. Also learn to utilise the positive behaviour support framework to address anxiety, aggression, ADHD, ASD and ODD.

SEL Educational Videos

Minimise or eliminate the occurrence of challenging behaviours by teaching children of all ages appropriate ways of communicating, interacting, managing their emotions and behaviours.

The SEL curriculum uses video modelling to provide direct, explicit and systematic teaching of the various skills by discussing the importance of the skill, modelling the skill so the child learns what the skill looks like? sounds like? feels like? and learn the skill in staged situations that simulate real life scenarios.


Personalised and practical behaviour therapy tailored specifically to your family.


Webinars discuss a range of practical strategies to guide your child learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.


Attend our practical and interactive workshops to learn about a range of diagnoses, practical skills and strategies to help develop the individual’s emotions, behaviours, social and communication skills in your learning environment.

Ask Dolly

Since you’re here, you probably have questions and concerns. I am Dolly Bhargava, am here to help. I am a NDIS registered behaviour support practitioner and speech pathologist.

I have worked in a number of settings for over 21 years so, how can I help?

Please tell me what is worrying you right now and I will do my best to recommend resources and/or services that will be most useful to you in your situation.

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