What are the Stages of Anxiety?

July 17, 2020

Anxiety is a normal emotion. Anxiety is the brain’s way of reacting to stress and letting you know there may be a potential danger you should be aware of. Everyone experiences anxiety symptoms occasionally, especially when faced with a problem or an important decision. Occasional anxiety is OK; however, consistent or chronic anxiety is not.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are separate and distinct from ordinary, everyday anxiety. They are a group of mental illnesses that cause constant and overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear. This excessive anxiety can cause those who struggle with it to avoid situations that cause these emotions. This can mean avoiding going to work, school, family events, and other social situations that may trigger (or worsen) anxiety symptoms.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, along with stages, people who struggle with anxiety tend to go through. First, we will briefly discuss the types of anxiety and then follow with information regarding the stages of anxiety.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when one feels excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason behind or in support of their emotions.

Panic Disorder

With panic disorders, one will feel a sudden, intense fear that brings about a panic attack. During a panic attack, they may break out in a sweat, experience chest pains, or have a rapid and accelerated heartbeat. Sometimes during a panic attack, a person may feel as though they are choking or even having a heart attack.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorders are also sometimes known as social phobias. These occur when a person feels overwhelming worry and self-consciousness regarding everyday situations in social settings. They will obsessively worry about others judging them or have unrealistic fears about being embarrassed or ridiculed while in public.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are when someone feels an intense fear of a particular object or situation, such as spiders or water. This fear goes beyond what a person would usually feel when exposed to this kind of stimulus. Phobias may cause someone to avoid certain situations or environments where they could come face to face with their fear.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety occurs when someone feels anxious or scared when a loved one leaves. Many people relate this to children (and pets), but it can occur in adults and teens as well. When someone has separation anxiety, they will become very anxious and fearful when someone they care for is out of sight and consistently worry that something terrible may happen to them while they’re gone.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM, there are other types of anxiety disorders such as selective mutism and medication-induced anxiety disorder. However, the above-listed ones tend to be the most common ones we hear about when discussing anxiety. The main symptom of an anxiety disorder is excessive fear or worry. The specific symptoms someone experiences will depend on the type of anxiety disorder they have.Stages of Anxiety

As previously stated, everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. A certain amount of anxiety is a normal reaction to some events that occur within our lives. However, anxiety disorders are disruptive to normal functioning and are best managed through treatment at a residential care facility such as Hillcrest. At Hillcrest, we can address the causes of your teen’s anxiety and help your teen learn how to better manage their symptoms. We will also talk about triggering events that may cause feelings of anxiety and how to manage them safely.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders. Statistics show that nearly twenty percent of adults in the United States have been affected by an anxiety disorder within the past year. Anxiety can begin early in life, with an average age of onset around eleven years old. Without treatment, symptoms of anxiety can continue through teen years and far into adulthood. The range of emotions one experiences when they struggle with anxiety can range from mildly uncomfortable to severe and debilitating panic, which can interfere with their ability to live normally.

Levels or stages of anxiety can be influenced by a person’s personality, coping mechanisms, gender, and life experiences. Anxiety stages are typically classified by the level of distress and impairment experienced by the individual. Generally, anxiety stages fall into one of four levels: mild anxiety, moderate anxiety, severe anxiety, and panic level anxiety.

Mild Anxiety

Mild anxiety is often described as clinically non-significant or subclinical anxiety. Although this description seems to indicate mild anxiety is benign or harmless, it can impact emotional, social, and professional functioning. Mild anxiety symptoms may present as shyness or social anxiety, and they can be experienced in early childhood through adulthood. If left unaddressed, mild anxiety can eventually lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms and more severe mental health disorders. It can also eventually lead to more significant anxiety disorders.

Moderate Anxiety

People with moderate anxiety have more frequent or persistent symptoms than those who experience mild anxiety. However, they still have better daily functioning than someone with severe anxiety or panic level anxiety. Although moderate anxiety symptoms are indeed disruptive, those who struggle with moderate anxiety may still have success in managing it through self-help strategies instead of a more intensive therapy-based program.

Severe Anxiety

Severe anxiety is intensely debilitating for those who struggle with it. The symptoms of severe anxiety meet critical diagnostic criteria listed in the DSM for a clinically significant anxiety disorder. People diagnosed with severe anxiety often score higher on scales of distress and lower on those related to functioning. Severe anxiety symptoms also commonly co-occur with major depression, contributing to more significant disability for the individual. Symptoms of severe anxiety occur frequently and persistently. Also, those with severe anxiety may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with their symptoms, eventually resulting in a co-occurring substance abuse disorder or addiction.

Panic Level Anxiety

Panic level anxiety or a panic disorder is characterized by reoccurring, unexpected, and frequent panic attacks. A panic attack does not consist of merely feeling overly nervous about a particular situation. Panic attacks bring about very specific symptoms, which can be overwhelming and debilitating for the individual. Some of these symptoms include:

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

Panic attacks generally last around ten minutes, but this will vary from person to person. It is hard to determine the triggers for panic attacks as they will also vary from person to person. Sometimes, the cause of a panic attack can be familiar, and sometimes it can be an unknown event.

Treating Anxiety Disorders

Fortunately, anxiety is highly treatable. There are many treatments available that are designed to reduce and manage the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. Some of the most common treatments include:


Several different approved drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders. If you struggle with a mild anxiety disorder, talk to your primary care provider or your therapist about the pros and cons of each medicine and decide if perhaps a medication-based therapy might be the right choice. Some of the most common medications include anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, anti-convulsants, and anti-psychotics. Each of these medications operates differently, and each will alleviate different symptoms. Whether a drug is successful will depend on the symptoms the individual is experiencing and how they react to the medication. A medication that works for one person may not work or may be ill-suited for another, so it is imperative to talk to your doctor before taking any medicines.


Psychotherapy is a type of counseling that helps your teen learn how their emotions affect their behaviors. Psychotherapy is sometimes referred to as talk therapy. It is conducted by a trained mental health specialist in either an outpatient or an inpatient residential setting such as that here at Hillcrest. During a therapy session, a mental health specialist will listen and talk to your teen about their thoughts and feelings. They will also suggest ways to understand and manage these thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, which will lead to better management of your teen’s anxiety disorder.

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy

Another form of therapy commonly used to treat anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. This type of therapy teaches a person how to turn negative or panic-inducing thoughts and behaviors into positive thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy strives to teach people how to approach and manage fearful or worrisome situations without experiencing anxiety.

If your child or teen struggles with anxiety, it can be extremely difficult for them to function in society from day to day. Simply attending school may result in triggering events that cause either symptoms of mild anxiety or a full-blown panic attack. Living with an anxiety disorder can be frustrating. Consistent worry and fear often result in one feeling scared and tired. Finding the proper treatment that will work for your teen may take some time. This is especially true if they have more than one anxiety disorder or another co-occurring mental health disorder.

Recovered - Anxiety - Hillcrest

At Hillcrest, we understand the importance of individualized teen anxiety treatment. It may take several different treatment options before the most appropriate option is found. At Hillcrest, our residential treatment program consists of therapies designed specifically for the needs of the individual. We understand that mental health treatment cannot be cookie-cutter and that one size does not fit all.

Our trained team of therapists, medical providers, nutritionists, and other on-site staff will work with your teen and your family to develop the most comprehensive treatment program taking into consideration both their anxiety disorder and any other treatment they may need. If your teen struggles with anxiety, Hillcrest is here to help.