Getting Disability for Anxiety and Panic Attacks


You may be able to get Social Security disability benefits if your anxiety causes symptoms that affect your ability to work and enjoy life.


Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations. In fact, it can be helpful. Anxiety alerts us to danger and makes sure we pay attention to hazards. But sometimes we have too much anxiety.


Anxiety disorders, which are the most common types of mental disorders among adults in Virginia and the U.S., differ from the feelings of nervousness and fear we sometimes have. And depending on the severity of your anxiety disorder, you may be unable to maintain competitive employment.


This article discusses anxiety disorders and how the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates claims for Social Security disability benefits based on anxiety and panic attacks. If you have questions, or are looking for legal representation, contact Richmond disability attorney Corey Pollard for a free consultation. We help disabled adults in Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Petersburg, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach get approved for SSDI benefits and Supplemental Security Income.


Types of Anxiety Disorders


There are many types of anxiety disorders, including:


Separation Anxiety Disorder


People with separation anxiety disorder have excessive anxiety regarding separation from people or places to whom he or she has developed a strong emotional attachment. For example, we have represented siblings with such severe separation anxiety that they needed to be placed in the same class at school.


Separation anxiety is common, with roughly 7 percent of adults and 4 percent of children suffering from it at some point in their lifetime. Many people do not experience separation anxiety for the first time until they reach adulthood.


Selective Mutism


Persons with selective mutism are unable to speak in certain social situations, despite being able to speak in others. For example, you may be able to speak at home or with friends and family members, but not to coworkers or customers in the work place. As such, you would likely be fired.


Specific Phobia


You have a phobia if you have excessive fear of a specific situation, object, thing, or circumstance. Common specific phobias include: animals (spiders, dogs, insects, snakes); natural environment (heights, water, storm, wind); blood-injection-injury (needles, surgeries, medical procedures); and, situational (elevators, airplanes, bridges).


Fear, anxiety, or avoidance of a specific situation or thing may cause difficulties maintaining a job.


Social Anxiety Disorder


Those of you with social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, have fear or anxiety about specific social situation. Common situations causing fear or anxiety include: speaking in public; meeting new people; or, being around others.


If you have social anxiety disorder then you may be limited to jobs that do not require interaction with the public or co-workers. Depending on your other physical or mental impairments, you may be awarded SSDI benefits or SSI.


Panic Disorder


Your psychiatrist or health care provider will diagnose panic disorder if you meet the following criteria:


A. Recurrent unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is defined as a sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within a few minutes. Common symptoms of a panic attack include:


  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilating
  • Nausea
  • Stomach aches
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting spells
  • Chills
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Feeling like you’re losing control


B. At least one of the panic attacks is followed by one or both of the following:


  • Persistent worry or concern that you’ll suffer another panic attack
  • Significant changes due to the initial panic attack, such as avoiding the situation where you had the panic attack


C. The disturbance is not caused by a substance or another medical condition, such as a thyroid condition or heart disease.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder


A person has generalized anxiety disorder when he or she has excessive anxiety and worry at least half of the time for a period of at least six months. The subject of the worry can be work performance, school performance, or difficulty completing activities at home.


Common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:


  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Sleep disturbance (trouble getting to or staying asleep)
  • Difficulty concentrating


Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition


Pain, cardiovascular conditions (congestive heart failure, palpitations), endocrine conditions (hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism), respiratory diseases (COPD, asthma), neurological conditions, and metabolic conditions can cause anxiety. When evaluating your disability claim, an experienced SSD attorney will present a full picture of your physical and mental medical conditions to the administrative law judge presiding over your Social Security disability hearing.


Can You Get Disability for Anxiety Disorder or Panic Attacks?


You may receive Social Security disability for anxiety if it has a marked and severe impact on your life. If you are still able to complete activities of daily living, such as grocery shopping, cooking, and going to church,  and maintain focus and concentration, such as with reading or watching television, then you will have a difficult time winning your disability claim based on anxiety.


If, however, your anxiety affects your normal daily activities significantly, you may qualify for Social Security disability for anxiety disorder or panic attacks.


The SSA provides guidance on how to qualify for disability benefits based on anxiety in Listing 12.06.


Listing 12.06, entitled Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders, focuses on disorders characterized by excessive anxiety, worry, and fear, or by avoidance of activities, thoughts, objects, people, or places. The SSA recognizes that these disorders cause fatigue, panic attacks, obsessions and compulsions, constant and intrusive thoughts and fears about safety, frequent physical complaints, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, and hyper-vigilance.


If your symptoms causes marked or extreme limitations in the following areas, then you will meet the Social Security disability listing for anxiety disorders:


  • Understanding instructions, learning new job tasks, having proper judgment in making work decisions
  • Getting along with others
  • Completing tasks
  • Managing activities of daily living, such as paying bills and household chores


As an attorney who handles disability claims based on anxiety disorders and panic attacks, I elicit testimony on the following:


  • Frequency of panic attacks
  • Symptoms associated with panic attacks
  • How long it takes to get back to baseline after the panic attack
  • Situations that cause panic attacks
  • How anxiety affects sleep
  • How anxiety affects energy levels during the day (i.e., are naps necessary?)
  • What situations you must avoid to reduce panic attacks
  • And much more


There are three goals with this testimony: 1) to show that your anxiety disorder reduces the work environments in which you could succeed; 2) to show that your anxiety reduces your ability to focus and concentrate to the point that you would make mistakes on the job or not finish your tasks in time; and 3) to show that you would miss too much time from work to maintain employment based on the frequency of panic attacks.


After You Apply for Social Security Disability for Anxiety Disorder or Panic Attacks in Richmond, Virginia


Corey Pollard can help you at every stage of the Social Security Disability application process – from filing your application for SSD benefits to appealing a denied SSD claim. Call us or email us now so that we can develop the medical and vocational evidence regarding your anxiety disorder or panic attacks and how they affect your day to day life and ability to work. We’re here to help you obtain Social Security disability for anxiety disorder or panic attacks.