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What Is Your Anxiety Type?

Understanding the cause of your anxiety can help you gain freedom from it.

Key points

  • There are three main "types" or root causes of anxiety, each stemming from a unique issue or need.
  • Understanding the root cause of your anxiety will guide you in applying solutions.
  • Your anxiety may stem from one, two or all three sources of anxiety.

Anxiety is the most diagnosed mental health disorder in the United States, and it's growing exponentially. Chances are you either experience anxiety yourself or know someone who does. While you may know the signs and symptoms of anxiety, did you know that there are three main types of anxiety originating from different sources; each with unique characteristics and specific solutions? Knowing which type of anxiety you are facing will help you to better understand your anxiety and inform how you can best gain mastery over it.

Future Catastrophizing

This anxiety involves fixating on a catastrophic story of a future outcome in the absence of evidence or facts that support that story. You then relate to that story as if it is certain or likely to happen. Future catastrophizing almost always begins with the words “what if,” and everything that follows is a story your mind has created. The underlying issue in future catastrophizing is a discomfort with uncertainty. Rather than sitting uncomfortably in the unknown, the mind will make up a story to create the illusion of certainty and give it a problem to solve. The solution to future catastrophizing is to be present in the moment, to differentiate between the facts you know and the story you are making up, and to focus your attention on “what is” rather than “what if.”


In all situations, there will be aspects that are in your control and aspects that are not in your control. Examples of what is in your control are what you think and how you choose to act/react. Examples of what is not in your control are what others think, feel, or how they act/react. Whenever your energy — emotional, cognitive or physical — is over-attending to what is not in your control, and under-attending to what is, you will feel disempowered, victimized and anxious. Accepting that which you cannot control, and placing your attention and energy on the things you can, helps you to feel empowered and resilient.

Anxiety stemming from control is also rooted in underlying beliefs that “I am not okay” or “Things will not be okay.” When these are your default (and possibly unconscious) beliefs, you will seek to create a sense of security by one of two routes. You may seek to control your environment based on the belief that if you know what to expect, or if things happen the way that you want them to or think that they should, then you will be okay. Alternatively, you may anticipate everything that can go wrong and make a plan for every possible negative outcome. The underlying belief is that, by having a plan for everything that can go wrong, you will be okay.

The problem is that neither of these strategies work. They externalize the conditions under which you can be okay; meaning that you are basing your ability to be okay on things outside of your control. And, because no one has the ability to predict the future, any plan you make will ultimately not be useful. It is almost universally true that the problems you imagine are not the ones that happen, and the ones that happen are not the ones you planned for. The solution to control is to cultivate an internal sense of trust that you are the reason you will be okay. Trust that you possess all of the internal and external resources you need to manage any problem you encounter.

Distorted Beliefs

A distorted belief is a negative belief about yourself that is not true, but which you believe to be true. Examples can include: I am unlovable, I am a failure, I am fundamentally flawed, or I am awkward and will be judged. When you believe to be true something that is in fact false, it will affect how you feel and how you act/react. Understanding your core distorted belief and the behaviors you engage in because of this belief is the first step in overcoming anxiety stemming from distorted beliefs. Identifying a correct and accurate belief that is 100% believable and 100% true, and then practicing behaviors that align with this belief, is the solution to this anxiety.

You may relate to one, two or all three of these anxiety types. Understanding the type of anxiety you are feeling in any given moment, its characteristics, and its solution will help you in your journey to gain freedom from your fear and stress.


The Albert Ellis Institute.

Burns, David, M.D. (1980) Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy 1st edn. Wiliam Morrow and Company.

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