Everyone has anxiety from time to time. But sometimes anxiety can be so frequent and overwhelming that it affects your daily life. This could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders, but all share the main symptom of excessive fear or worry.
Anxiety symptoms aren’t only psychological. The symptoms can also be physical or cause changes in your behavior or mood. Knowing the symptoms of anxiety can help you get the support you may need.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
About 31% of US adults will experience an anxiety disorder sometime in their life. These disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Having excessive worry about everyday issues like health, money, and relationships
- Panic disorder: Having repeated, unexpected panic attacks and worrying about the next attack
- Social anxiety disorder: Having intense fear of social situations and of being looked down on by others during those situations
- Specific phobias: Having a deep fear of certain objects or situations
People might also have a medical condition, such as thyroid problems, that causes anxiety.
Everyone may experience anxiety differently, but generally, anxiety includes some of the following signs and symptoms.
The primary characteristic of anxiety is worry. People with anxiety struggle with excessive worrying, which may occur as difficult-to-control intrusive thoughts about worst-case scenarios.
Most people worry from time to time. If you have a big event like a wedding coming up or are expecting results of a health test, you might worry.
But if you have an anxiety disorder, your worry will be exaggerated and out of proportion to the situation. For instance, you may worry about losing your job even when there's no reason to think it's in jeopardy. Or maybe you worry about your significant other breaking up with you even though things have been going well.
Each anxiety disorder has its own set of diagnostic criteria when it comes to worry. For example, to be diagnosed with GAD, excessive worrying needs to occur for at least six months. And one of the criteria for panic disorder is that, after experiencing a panic attack, the worry about your next panic attack has to last at least one month.
Anxious thoughts can make it hard to settle yourself down and relax. People with anxiety disorder may feel:
- On edge
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Cognition has to do with thinking, reasoning, or remembering. Anxiety can start to take a toll on these aspects of your cognitive function.
People with anxiety might have trouble concentrating or might get easily distracted. This can start to affect your performance at work, school, or home.
Other anxiety symptoms related to cognition include:
- Poor memory
- Difficulty speaking
- Narrowed attention, focusing only on what it is you are anxious about
- A lost sense of reality
- Scary thoughts, mental images, or memories
- A fear of losing control
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Anxiety isn't only a mental or emotional experience. Anxious thoughts or feelings kick your fight-or-flight response into high gear, which can result in physical symptoms.
If you have anxiety, you may experience physical symptoms like:
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Muscle tension or pain
- Shortness of breath
Someone with panic disorder might experience a panic attack. During such episodes, physical symptoms can include:
- Racing heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Trembling or tingling
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Someone with social anxiety disorder might also experience sweating, trembling, and a racing heartbeat. They can also experience blushing, hold a more rigid body posture, and speak in an extra soft tone.
Anxiety can also cause changes in behavior. One of the most common behavior changes is avoidance, or avoiding activities you normally do because they trigger anxiety. You may, for example, avoid riding in cars if you're worried about getting into an accident or opt out of travel if you're nervous on airplanes.
You might also try to seek reassurance to quell your anxiety. The anxiety and its effect on your life might also make you restless or agitated.
Some people may try to keep anxiety at bay by using substances like alcohol, marijuana, or illicit drugs. While these substances may result in an initial feeling of calm, their usage has actually been linked to worsening anxiety and mental health in the long term.
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If you have anxiety, you may struggle to fall or stay asleep at night. As a result, you might not get the quantity or quality of sleep you need. That could leave you feeling tired the next day. Lack of sleep due to anxiety can cause a vicious cycle, triggering more anxiety or inciting other mental health problems, such as stress and depression.
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When to See a Healthcare Provider
Anxiety that interferes with your everyday functioning and overall well-being can be distressing. It can impact your social, emotional, and physical health and affect your work and relationships.
If you have anxiety symptoms, consider visiting a healthcare provider. Also consider seeking help if you experience any complications that are associated with the disorder, such as gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, depression, thoughts of suicide, or alcohol abuse.
Looking for support?
If you are in crisis, or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.
The provider will review your medical history and symptoms. They may also ask for your family history and take blood tests or other exams to rule out potential medical causes of anxiety, such as thyroid disorders, or other mental health conditions.
If you’re diagnosed with anxiety, there are a number of treatment options available to help manage your symptoms, including medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
The provider will likely encourage lifestyle changes, such as prioritizing sleep, nutrition, exercise, and relaxation, as they can be beneficial additions to anxiety treatment. The provider might also suggest avoiding things that can worsen symptoms, such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and stress.
A Quick Review
Anxiety can be a normal response to a stressful situation or decision, lasting long enough to help you push past the stress. But with anxiety disorders, worry or fear is a mainstay of life. For people with GAD, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or any other type of anxiety disorder, their anxiety is overwhelming and affects daily life.
Anxiety can cause debilitating mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. Anxiety symptoms can include worry; changes in your mood, behavior, cognition, or physical health; and sleep problems. Linking your symptoms to anxiety is the first step in relieving them and improving your quality of life.
If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, make an appointment to talk with a healthcare provider. It can be difficult to ask for help, but with the right treatment, it's possible to improve your anxiety symptoms.
Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.