7 Key Types of Anxiety Interpreted

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

Psychologists will often refer to the ways in which anxiety sufferers ‘misinterpret’ the actual threat level of a feared situation. In fact these misinterpretations, and the sensations that precede them, vary according to the particular anxiety disorder.

Specific phobia

The symptoms of a specific phobia kick in when the feared situation is encountered. The sensation (the misinterpretation) that follows is that the person is in danger and needs to escape.

Social phobia

The person with social phobia becomes highly anxious during social events. The resulting misinterpretation is they feel socially incompetent, negatively judged and are likely to feel embarrassed and humiliated.


Unwanted and intrusive thoughts are central characteristics of obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD). For the sufferer the misinterpretation of such thoughts is they are mad, or bad, or dangerous to be around.

Health anxiety

In health anxiety, situations involving normal bodily sensations, or something as common as a spot or a mole, give rise to the misinterpretation that some seriously dangerous or possibly fatal disease has befallen the sufferer. Even after expert reassurance there is often a lingering doubt that the symptoms have been misdiagnosed.

Panic disorder

Bodily sensations provide the situation for the anxiety reaction. The panic sufferer typically misinterprets these sensations as leading to an immediate and catastrophic outcome such as madness or even death.


The person with generalized anxiety disorder is a worrier. The worry is often free-floating and embraces all manner of issues. The classic misinterpretation is that worrying is a way of staying focused on an issue and that by worrying something bad will be prevented from happening. The person with GAD has a belief that worrying shows they are a kind and caring person (which of course they may also be).


Involvement in or witness to a traumatic situation can lead to a point where the person believes they will never recover and that their symptoms are a sign of madness.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.