Beck Anxiety Inventory

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) is a tool that can be used to measure the severity of an individual’s anxiety symptoms. The Beck system is frequently employed in clinical or research settings and can also be used by an individual to help them understand when they may need to seek treatment for their symptoms. It includes 21 questions that can be self-administered or administered verbally by a practitioner. A brief history of the BAI, how it works, and related research can be found below.

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Did you take the Beck Anxiety Inventory?

The history of the BAI

The Beck Anxiety Inventory was developed in 1988 by Dr. Aaron Beck and some of his colleagues and was consequently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Beck was a respected psychiatrist who was also involved in a variety of research studies related to abnormal psychology as well as common mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and others. 

The BA inventory was developed as a way to assess anxiety severity, independent of any potentially overlapping symptoms of depression or other disorders.

Before the invention of this scale, the most popular anxiety scales (such as the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory [to assess trait anxiety and state anxiety]) included symptoms that could also be caused by depression, which made them somewhat unreliable. The Beck Anxiety Inventory does not include symptoms typical of affective disorders like depression, meaning that if an individual scores high on the BAI, they’re likely to have an issue with anxiety in particular. 

How the BAI works

There are twenty-one items on this self-report inventory tool which represent the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Many items on the list focus on physiological or somatic symptoms rather than cognitive symptoms. That’s why clinicians often pair the BAI with the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, which is generally considered to be a more accurate representation of cognitive symptoms such as catastrophizing. 

To use the BAI, an individual self-reports on symptoms, using a rating scale of zero to three to describe how intensely they’ve felt each of the symptoms below in the past week, if at all. Zero represents “not at all”, one indicates “mildly, but it didn’t bother me much”, two means “moderately; it wasn’t pleasant at times”, and three represents “severely; it bothered me a lot”.

The 21 symptoms are:

  1. Numbness or tingling

  2. Feeling hot

  3. Wobbliness in legs

  4. Unable to relax

  5. Fear of the worst happening

  6. Dizzy or lightheaded

  7. Heart pounding/racing

  8. Unsteady

  9. Terrified or afraid

  10. Nervous

  11. Feeling of choking

  12. Hands trembling

  13. Shaky/unsteady

  14. Fear of losing control

  15. Difficulty breathing

  16. Fear of dying

  17. Scared

  18. Indigestion

  19. Faint/lightheaded

  20. Face flushed

  21. Hot/cold sweats

Once the individual answers all of the items on the inventory, the clinician can add up their score. A score of zero to seven indicates minimal anxiety, eight to 15 indicates mild anxiety, 16 to 25 indicates moderate anxiety and 30 to 63 indicates severe anxiety. 


What the BAI can be used for

The Beck Anxiety Inventory is not intended to be used as a sole diagnostic tool. Instead, it’s an assessment tool measuring clinical anxiety symptoms that may be present in an individual and to what extent. This can be helpful for all psychiatric patients, not just those seeking treatment for anxiety disorders in particular. Equipped with this knowledge, the provider can develop a treatment plan for the individual’s symptoms. Then, the clinician may continue to use the BAI at each appointment to monitor an individual’s progress. If symptoms are not improving, they may adjust the treatment plan. 

The BAI and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale

Shortly after it was released, various studies were conducted to assess the accuracy of this scale in different settings—mostly in patients who had already been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. One such study done in 1991 compared the BAI to the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, which was commonly used at the time. It showed that high scores on the Beck Anxiety Inventory correlated directly to raw scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale and that it was, in fact, effective in assessing symptoms of anxiety. It also found that higher scores were more common in patients diagnosed with a panic-related disorder rather than a generalized anxiety disorder. 

Another study determined that the BAI and the Beck Depression Inventory-II, administered in anxious outpatients, obtained results similar to those by Steer et al. in recording the relative amounts of variance explained by the common and specific dimensions of these tools. Results from another study, after finding effectiveness in adolescent psychiatric inpatients, have supported the use of the BAI in evaluating adolescent psychiatric outpatients who report experiencing anxiety.

Another study in 1993 determined that the Beck AI was a very effective tool for gauging anxiety in psychiatric outpatients without confusing it with symptoms of other psychiatric disorders.

The inventory also seems to work for people in different age ranges. Studies exploring the psychometric properties of the BAI in older adults found that it was an effective report for determining the severity of anxiety in this population. The BAI has also shown discriminant validity in separating patients who have a current anxiety disorder from patients who do not. 

Despite these results, the Beck Anxiety Inventory does have some limitations, and its effectiveness varies among diagnostic groups. For example, an analysis published in the International Journal of Mental Health found that the assessment's original factor structure was inadequate for determining anxiety in Spanish-speaking Latinx primary care patients. These results indicated that an adjusted factor structure is likely necessary for any primary care population that speaks a language other than English. Furthermore, although the goal of the BAI was to measure the severity of anxiety symptoms without measuring depression, some studies suggest that it does inadvertently measure depression as well, which could muddle results. Additionally, a confirmatory factor analysis found that the BAI, in its original two-factor structure, did not garner the most effective results in African-American populations.

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Did you take the Beck Anxiety Inventory?

Seeking support for symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

If you’re experiencing signs of clinical anxiety—especially if you took the BAI and it reflected moderate to severe symptoms—it may be worth seeking support. A therapist can evaluate your situation and suggest treatment options. A cognitive behavioral therapist in particular can also help you learn to identify flawed or distorted thoughts that may be leading to distress and develop healthy coping mechanisms for anxious feelings.

There are various tools, questionnaires, and behavior assessments that a trained counselor can use to better understand and treat your anxiety. For example, a fear survey schedule is a questionnaire that helps to identify and rank specific sources of fear.  Additionally, some individuals find that they begin to fear the physical symptoms they experience when they are anxious. A tool called the anxiety sensitivity index measures a person’s “fear of fear” – the degree to which a person believes that the physical symptoms of anxiety negatively impact them. One study found that individuals with panic disorder scored higher on anxiety sensitivity than individuals with general anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, or major depression. A cognitive behavioral therapist can offer strategies to help you cope with the physical symptoms of your anxiety.

For some people, the thought of meeting with a provider in person can induce anxiety. In situations like these, online therapy may be a viable alternative. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed provider who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of your home to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that study participants who engaged in online therapy for depression and anxiety showed “significant and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety scores” at 12 weeks post-intervention and that these results were sustained for six months, making it an effective potential alternative for those who prefer this format. 


The Beck Anxiety Inventory is an assessment of anxiety that provides clinicians with information to understand the anxiety symptoms an individual may be experiencing. You can also take the BAI on your own to determine whether it may be time to meet with a licensed healthcare provider to address your symptoms. Take the first step toward relief from anxiety and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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