Reviewed by Angela Sheddan, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, especially in stressful situations such as before a job interview or while giving a speech. People with anxiety disorders, however, experience persistent, often severe anxiety that can occur outside of normally stressful situations.
Many people might think of anxiety as a feeling or mood. But is anxiety a mood disorder? Or is it a personality disorder?
We go into more detail about anxiety and explain what mood disorders and personality disorders are. We’ll also discuss treatment options for anxiety and answer the question: is anxiety a mood or personality disorder?
Mood disorders represent a category of mental illnesses that primarily affect a person’s mood or emotional state. Different types of depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder are all considered mood disorders.
Mood disorders are most likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals but can also be caused by stressful life changes.
Research estimates that over 9 percent of American adults had a mood disorder in the past year.
The most common types of mood disorders are:
Major depressive disorder (MDD). Often referred to as depression, MDD is a mood disorder that negatively affects your thoughts, feelings and life. Depression typically involves having less interest in usual activities, feeling sad or hopeless and other symptoms. These symptoms must be present for two weeks or longer to be diagnosed as major depressive disorder.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). Persistent depressive disorder is a mild type of depression that lasts for at least two years. Symptoms include loss of interest in normal activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, low energy and poor concentration.
Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder causes a person to have periods of depression alternating with periods of an elevated mood. Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder go through periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and uncharacteristic behaviors.
Substance-induced mood disorder. This mood disorder is marked by depression symptoms that are caused by the use or misuse of medications, illegal drugs or alcohol, or exposure to toxins.
While symptoms may vary depending on the type of mood disorder, there are common symptoms of mood disorders, including:
Ongoing sad, anxious or “empty” mood
Feeling hopeless or helpless
Feeling inadequate or worthless
Loss of interest in usual activities
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Changes in appetite and/or weight
Irritability, hostility or aggression
Mood disorders can be successfully treated, usually with psychotherapy, antidepressant medication or a combination of both. Our guide to depression medications discusses the different types of depression treatments available.
Talk to a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and especially if you are having repeated thoughts of death or suicide.
Personality disorders are a group of mental conditions that involve long-term, unusual thought and behavior patterns.
Those diagnosed with personality disorders may find it difficult to relate to others or deal with everyday problems. These thoughts and behaviors can impact their social, personal and professional lives. And while all of us may find it hard to relate to others sometimes, very specific criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) are used to diagnose true personality disorders.
The many types of personality disorders are grouped into three clusters based on their characteristics and symptoms. The three clusters are:
Emotional and impulsive
Paranoid personality disorder. People with paranoid personality disorder may be incredibly distrustful of others, especially when there is no reason to be suspicious.
Schizoid personality disorder. Those diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder may display little interest in forming personal relationships or interacting socially and may have trouble interpreting social cues.
Antisocial personality disorder. An antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a disregard for others. Those diagnosed with this disorder tend to lie, break laws and act impulsively.
Borderline personality disorder.Borderline personality disorder impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others. This can cause problems in everyday life, including self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and unstable relationships.
Histrionic personality disorder. People with a histrionic personality disorder have an overwhelming desire to be noticed. They have unstable emotions, a distorted self-image and a pattern of attention-seeking behaviors.
Narcissistic personality disorder. People with narcissistic personality disorder often have an inflated sense of self-importance, a deep need for attention and a lack of empathy for others.
Dependent personality disorder. People diagnosed with dependent personality disorder may feel helpless, rely on other people to meet their emotional and physical needs, avoid being alone and regularly need reassurance when making decisions.
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder have an overwhelming need for order and feel extremely uncomfortable when perfection isn’t achieved.
Treatment for personality disorders can vary depending on the symptoms someone experiences. Typically a combination of medications — such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications — and psychotherapy are used for treatment.
Feeling anxiety at some point in your life is totally normal. But if you feel it often, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders that can affect the way you think, feel and behave.
Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting approximately 40 million American adults every year — around 18 percent of the total adult population.
The five major types of anxiety disorders are:
Generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause excessive or persistent feelings of dread and worry, even when there may be nothing to worry about. People with GAD may overly worry about everyday things like money, family, health, work or school. This excessive anxiety can negatively impact people’s lives and cause problems at work and in maintaining relationships.
Panic disorder. Those with panic disorders have frequent and unexpected panic attacks, which are intense periods of sudden discomfort, fear or a sense of losing control. Panic disorders can make people worry about when their next attack will happen or try to prevent attacks by avoiding triggers. Symptoms of a panic attack can include a pounding heartbeat, sweating, trembling, chest pain and feelings of impending doom or being out of control.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).OCD causes recurrent, unwanted thoughts and behaviors. People with OCD may obsessively clean or wash their hands, repeatedly check things or perform repeated “rituals” to offer temporary relief from obsessive thoughts. Over 2 million American adults are estimated to have OCD, just over 1 percent of the adult population.
Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia). Social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of being judged or viewed negatively by or in front of others. People may worry about appearing awkward, stupid or boring, or worry about appearing noticeably anxious. For some, social anxiety disorders may get in the way of them going to work, school or social events. Our guide on how to deal with social anxiety explains ways to cope with this disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).PTSD develops in those who have experienced a shocking, unexpected or dangerous event.PTSD symptoms can involve flashbacks of the traumatic event, difficulty sleeping, bad dreams, avoiding reminders of the event, outbursts or feeling on edge. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 6 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, and women are more likely to develop PTSD.
While some symptoms of anxiety vary based on the type of disorder, some symptoms are common across different types, including:
Difficulty concentrating on anything other than current worries or concerns
Feeling nervous or restless
Feeling physical weakness and/or tired
Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
If you regularly experience significant anxiety, have recurring anxiety that occurs in certain situations or around certain people or feel your anxiety is getting in the way of your daily life, you should talk to your healthcare provider.
So now that you know more about mood disorders, personality disorders and anxiety disorders, we can come back to our questions. Is anxiety a mood disorder? Or is anxiety a personality disorder? The answer isn’t a definitive yes or no for either question.
Mood disorders are psychological conditions that primarily affect a person’s emotional state, leading to inconsistent feelings and reactions towards situations.
A main characteristic of mood disorders is a consistent feeling of sadness or feeling “empty.” A main characteristic of anxiety disorders, however, is the persistent feeling of worry, stress or fear to the point where you can’t concentrate on anything else but that worry.
Research has also found that one of the main differences between anxiety and mood disorders is environmental stressors. Specifically, dangerous situations or events are more commonly a cause of generalized anxiety disorder.
So to answer the question of whether anxiety is a mood disorder: not quite. While symptoms of anxiety can negatively impact your mood and emotional state, anxiety and anxiety disorders are not directly related to mood.
Anxiety disorders are excessive fear, worry or stress that interferes with someone’s daily life and activities. They can lead to developing feelings of hopelessness, fear and other serious emotions. But while anxiety can seem like part of your personality, it isn’t a personality disorder.
Personality disorders are psychological disorders characterized by personality types that vastly differ from cultural norms, causing significant distress and interpersonal problems.
Although anxiety disorders and personality disorders have overlapping characteristics, research shows that each should be diagnosed separately.
There are also similarities between mood disorders and personality disorders. However, researchers classify them as separate diagnoses because of their distinctions.
But there are also several overlapping symptoms of anxiety disorders, mood disorders and personality disorders.
In one study, researchers found that anxiety can even be a predictor of mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder.
Several personality disorders can co-occur with anxiety disorders and some, like borderline personality disorder, have anxiety as one of the main symptoms.
Anxiety disorders can also occur alongside other mental health conditions, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. According to a 2019 literature review, at least half of people with bipolar disorder will experience an anxiety disorder.
Fortunately, no matter what kind of disorder anxiety disorders are, there are ways to treat and learn to manage anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Most anxiety disorders can improve over time when properly identified and treated. A combination of medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes are typically used to treat anxiety disorders.
The most common form of treatment for anxiety is medication, which can help you manage your anxiety and relieve your symptoms.
Medications approved by the FDA and used to treat anxiety disorders include:
Antidepressants. Certain antidepressants, including some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are typically first-line medications prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. Common antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders include Zoloft® (sertraline), Lexapro® (escitalopram), Paxil® (paroxetine), Cymbalta® (duloxetine) and others.
Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines reduce anxiety, promote sedation and can often provide immediate relief from anxiety symptoms. Xanax® (alprazolam), Valium® (diazepam), Ativan® (lorazepam) and Klonopin® (clonazepam) are benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety. However, they should only be used short-term, as long-term use has a high addiction potential.
Buspirone.Buspirone is a medication that’s FDA approved for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It’s often used as a treatment option for people who don’t respond to other medications. Buspirone doesn’t have any risk of physical dependence or withdrawal.
Beta-blockers.Beta-blockers offer immediate relief to treat the physical symptoms of performance anxiety that may occur before speeches, presentations and performances. While good for short-term, event-based anxiety, beta-blockers do not treat the psychological symptoms of anxiety. There is also less research-based evidence supporting the use of beta-blockers for anxiety symptoms.
Some anxiety medications, such as antidepressants, can interact with other commonly used medications. To ensure that you’re safe, you’ll need to tell your healthcare provider about any other medications you currently use before you begin treatment.
Finding the right medication can take time and your healthcare provider may try various options before finding the one that works for you.
Exposure therapy is just as it sounds: being exposed to situations or objects that may trigger anxiety while in a safe environment. It can reduce stress and help people overcome their fears when combined with relaxation techniques.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves learning different methods of thinking and reacting to sources of anxiety. CBT can be carried out in a one-to-one setting, or in a group of people overcoming similar issues.
Like medication, therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. Your therapist will work with you to provide the most suitable and effective option for your symptoms and needs.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ll likely need treatment with medication or psychotherapy. You can also make changes to your lifestyle and habits to control your anxiety and improve your quality of life.
Sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your mental health. Aim to get seven to eight hours of high-quality sleep per night for both your mental and physical health.
Quit smoking. Although you may feel relaxed right after smoking a cigarette, smoking can cause anxiety symptoms to get worse over the long term. Giving up smoking will not only help your anxiety in the long term but will also improve your overall physical and mental health.
Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. Alcohol and illicit drugs can worsen anxiety, causing you to experience worse symptoms over the long term.
Eat anxiety-easing foods. Eating omega-3 fatty acids (found in seafood) and foods that contain B vitamins, probiotics or zinc may be effective for some people who are affected by anxiety and depression. These foods should not be viewed as replacements for anxiety medications or psychotherapy though.
Learn your anxiety triggers. Being aware of your anxiety triggers, whether they’re certain situations, objects or people, can help you to work with your healthcare provider and make progress in treating your anxiety.
Consistency. Be consistent and follow your treatment plan as advised by your doctor. Anxiety treatment requires time, commitment and consistency.
Spend time with loved ones. Make sure to spend time with your family, friends and loved ones, as they may be able to help you to make progress.
The bottom line is that anxiety is not exactly a mood disorder. However, anxiety disorders can affect your emotional state and overall well-being.
Anxiety is a normal, everyday occurrence. It can become a problem, however, when it becomes overwhelming or unmanageable.
Anxiety disorders, mood disorders and personality disorders can all be treated.
If you believe that you may have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional.
Start your mental wellness journey today.