Anxiety disorders affect people in different ways. Learn about the different levels of anxiety including symptoms and severity of impairment.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives, and a certain amount of anxiety is normal. Anxiety disorders, however, are defined by excessive worry and hyperarousal that are disruptive to normal functioning. Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders, with 19.1% of adults in the U.S. being affected in the past year. Anxiety can begin early in life, with an average age of onset of 11 years old, and it may range from mildly uncomfortable symptoms to severe and debilitating panic that can interfere with a person’s ability to live normally.

Levels of anxiety can be influenced by personalitycoping strategies, life experiences, and gender. Anxiety levels are typically classified by the level of distress and impairment experienced into four categories: mild anxiety, moderate anxiety, severe anxiety and panic level anxiety.

Article at a Glance:

  • Anxiety disorders can be mild, moderate or severe.
  • Panic level anxiety may involve extreme fear, rapid breathing and heart palpitations.
  • Panic attacks typically last about 10 minutes and can be triggered by various things.
  • Mild and moderate anxiety can be managed through therapy, medication and exercise.
  • Severe anxiety may require a combination of treatment strategies to be successful.

Mild Anxiety

Although often described as sub-clinical or clinically non-significant, mild anxiety can impact emotional, social and professional functioning. Mild anxiety symptoms may present as social anxiety or shyness and can be experienced in early childhood through to adulthood. If left unaddressed, mild anxiety can lead to maladaptive coping strategies or more severe mental conditions.

Moderate Anxiety

People with moderate levels of anxiety have more frequent or persistent symptoms than those with mild anxiety, but still have better daily functioning than someone with severe anxiety or panic disorder. For example, people with moderate anxiety may report experiencing symptoms such as feeling on edge, being unable to control their worrying or being unable to relax several days or the majority of days in a week, but not every day. Although moderate anxiety symptoms are disruptive, people with moderate anxiety may have success in managing their anxiety with the help of a doctor or self-help strategies.

Severe Anxiety

Severe anxiety is intensely debilitating, and symptoms of severe anxiety meet key diagnostic criteria for clinically-significant anxiety disorder. People with severe anxiety typically score higher on scales of distress and lower on functioning. Severe anxiety symptoms also frequently co-occur with major depression, which can contribute to greater disability. Symptoms of severe anxiety are frequent and persistent and may include increased heart rate, feelings of panic and social withdrawal. These symptoms can result in loss of work and increased health care costs. In addition, individuals with severe anxiety may turn to alcohol and drugs as a means to cope with their symptoms.

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Panic Level Anxiety

Panic level anxiety, or panic disorder, is characterized by frequent, recurring and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack can include symptoms such as:

  • Rapid onset of extreme fear
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Fear of death

Panic attacks usually last around 10 minutes. The triggers for panic attacks vary from person to person, and the cause of an attack may be familiar to a person or unknown.

Managing Anxiety

There are many different ways to manage anxiety, depending on the severity. For example, mild to moderate anxiety may be manageable through exercise, meditation or therapy. For more severe cases of anxiety, therapy, medication or a combination of treatment strategies may be most beneficial.

The use of coping and treatment strategies like teletherapy can be life changing for people living with anxiety and can allow them to gain control of their lives.

If you’re looking for some more healthy ways to manage anxiety, the Nobu app can help. It is free and for anyone that is looking to reduce anxiety, work through depression, build self-esteem, get aftercare following treatment, attend teletherapy sessions and so much more. Download the Nobu app today!

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more

National Institute of Mental Health. “Any Anxiety Disorder.” November 2017. Accessed May 15, 2019.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.