Feeling anxious from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. The nervousness you might feel before an exam, interview, or presentation, for instance, is generally considered to be normal, as it tends to dissipate once the event is over. However, anxiety that is chronic, isn’t always based on specific scenarios, and causes disruptions to daily life may qualify as a disorder.
10 Common Anxiety Symptoms
Again, although only a licensed healthcare provider can properly diagnose a clinical mental health condition, you may be able to recognize some symptoms in yourself, which may encourage you to seek professional evaluation and support.
Note that there are various types of anxiety disorders, from generalized anxiety disorder to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to specific phobias. Each of these may manifest in different ways. However, the following ten symptoms are considered to be associated with anxiety disorders in general, and the manifestation of several at once may indicate the need for evaluation by a mental health professional.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with anxiety disorders often worry excessively, usually with regularity for six months or longer. This hallmark symptom can impact their work, school, relationships, and/or daily functioning, as it may manifest as extreme self-consciousness, difficulty trusting others, a frequent need for validation or control, and/or avoidance of certain anxiety-producing situations. Keeping these feelings under control without professional support can be challenging, even if the individual recognizes that what they are experiencing is disproportionate to the reality of the circumstances.
As one study on the topic relates, sleep disturbances are “highly prevalent” in those with anxiety disorders—so much so that insomnia or nightmares have even been incorporated into the clinical definitions of some conditions like generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Racing thoughts or the fear of having a nightmare can make it difficult for an individual to fall asleep, and actual nightmares can interrupt sleep. As a result, anxiety symptoms may worsen because a lack of sleep can contribute to increased difficulty with controlling emotions.
As mentioned, sleep disturbances are common in those with anxiety, which can result in fatigue during the day. However, even if an individual sleeps well at night, they may still experience fatigue during their waking hours as a result of anxiety. Coping with near-constant anxious feelings can be mentally and even physically draining, which can potentially make getting through the day more difficult. Again, emotional control can also become harder when an individual is sleep deprived, which could then potentially contribute to the development of other comorbid conditions such as depression.
Difficulty concentrating is another common symptom of some anxiety disorders. It can be a result of persistent worry or sleep problems, or it can appear independent of these. It may manifest as trouble completing projects or assignments, difficulty staying present in conversations, or blanking out when trying to remember something. Plus, if someone is unable to meet deadlines or finish tasks that they need to as a result of this symptom, their levels of anxiety may increase even further.
Anxiety can also cause a person to feel “on edge”. If they’re lost in anxious thought, they might become easily startled or annoyed when disturbed, as their brain is telling them that they need to focus on a perceived threat. In addition, as described previously, constantly being absorbed in a state of worry can be stressful and exhausting. As a result, an individual may have more difficulty with emotional control since so much of their energy is being spent on feelings of anxiety.
Increased Heart Rate
When faced with a situation that induces stress, a person may notice that their heart rate goes up or begins to feel irregular. This is because the body enters “fight-or-flight” mode, a natural response to dealing with a threat. When this response is triggered frequently or for prolonged periods over time, such as in those with anxiety, it can lead to negative health effects because of the extended release of hormones.
Sweating And Hot Flashes
A person may also experience an increase in body temperature as a result of the fight-or-flight response that anxiety can trigger. They may notice that they sweat more or overheat more often because their body is preparing them to respond to what their mind has labeled as a threat.
Trembling And Shaking
There are several different reasons a person may experience physical tremors, such as neurological conditions like Parkinson’s Disease. However, the tremors associated with anxiety are usually caused by adrenaline as a result of the fight-or-flight response. They’re typically temporary, but the experience of one’s hands shaking uncontrollably can still be distressing and may contribute to even more anxiety in the moment.
Feelings Of Impending Doom
This sensation is especially common and may be more extreme in those with panic disorder, because it’s a typical symptom of panic attacks. However, a person with another type of anxiety disorder may also experience a frequent feeling that something terrible is going to happen. This symptom is likely a result of the body and brain’s anticipation of an impending perceived threat.
Avoidance Of Situations That May Induce Anxiety
Finally, it’s not uncommon for those with anxiety disorders to begin to avoid certain situations that may trigger symptoms. For example, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may avoid people or places that remind them of a traumatic event they experienced in the past. Those with social anxiety disorder may avoid social situations altogether due to an intense fear of being judged or embarrassed. This is one way in which an untreated anxiety disorder can negatively impact a person’s work, school, relationships, and/or daily functioning.
Treatment For Anxiety Disorders
The most effective treatment plan for an individual with anxiety typically depends on the specific disorder they have, the symptoms they’re experiencing as well as their severity, and any co-occurring health conditions they may have. That’s why it’s usually important to meet with a mental health professional for evaluation and treatment options, because they can tailor their recommendations to your unique situation. That said, the following are common treatment approaches for those with anxiety disorders. A healthcare professional may recommend one, two, or all three for a given individual.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, there are various lifestyle changes that an individual can make to assist in their management of anxiety symptoms. These include exercising daily, limiting alcohol and caffeine, eating balanced meals, engaging in breathing exercises, and others. Note that these do not represent a replacement for professional treatment of a clinical mental health disorder. Remember that you should consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or routines.
Different types of medication (such as anti-anxiety medications, beta blockers, and antidepressants) may be prescribed by a healthcare professional to help reduce anxiety symptoms in an individual. Keep in mind that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to medication for treating anxiety; dosages can vary as well as the type of drug used, and medication in general may not be right for every person or every case. Make sure to consult a qualified provider before starting, stopping, or changing any medication regimen.
One of the most effective methods for managing an anxiety disorder is psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is a method that’s often used for individuals experiencing symptoms of anxiety. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help a person learn to recognize distorted thoughts that may be causing anxious feelings and behaviors and learn to shift them in a more realistic direction. They can also help them develop healthy coping mechanisms for when symptoms of anxiety do occur so they can manage them with minimal disruption to their lives.
Some people experiencing anxiety symptoms may find meeting with a provider in person to be intimidating. In a case like this, online therapy may represent an effective alternative. One recent study, for example, suggests that online and in-person CBT “created equivalent overall effects” in the treatment of anxiety disorders, which means that you can generally choose the format that feels most comfortable and convenient for you. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging, all from the comfort of home.
What are the warning signs of anxiety?
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, each with its own signs and symptoms. In general, however, a persistent sense of worry, fear, or impending danger—especially when there is no actual danger at hand—may be a key warning sign of anxiety. If it’s negatively impacting daily functioning, life, and relationships and/or causing significant distress regularly, it could qualify as an anxiety disorder. Consult with a mental health care provider if you're experiencing mild to intense anxiety or other mental health concerns that are impacting your well-being.
Do I have anxiety, or am I just nervous?
Feelings of nervousness from time to time can be a normal response to various life circumstances and situations. It may qualify as an anxiety disorder when the nervousness, worry, and fear become “excessive” and are associated with avoidance behaviors.
How can anxiety start?
The exact cause of anxiety disorders isn’t fully understood, but researchers suspect it may be some combination of factors including genetics and environment. Various other factors can potentially worsen anxiety throughout an individual’s lifetime as well, such as high stress levels, certain lifestyle habits, and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms.
What does anxiety feel like?
Mentally, anxiety can feel like worry or fear about something. It can also show up as irritability and trouble concentrating. Physically, anxiety can manifest as muscle tension, chest pain, headaches, increased heart rate, and similar signs. Anxiety is a normal human emotion, but it may qualify as an anxiety disorder if it’s persistent, difficult to control, excessive, and/or negatively impacts daily functioning.
How do people with anxiety think?
People who live with mental disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, or other anxiety disorders tend to have trouble controlling their level of worry. They may have excessive anxiety or fear related to everyday situations, and it may be hard for them to exit the thought loop of these concerns. They might overthink, expect the worst, and want to prepare for every possibility. Professional treatment for mental health conditions in this category can help an individual learn to manage their symptoms.
Can anxiety be cured?
As with some other mental and medical illnesses, anxiety disorders are generally thought of as “treatable” rather than “curable.” In other words, a tendency to engage in anxious thought patterns may always be present in an individual, but various strategies and treatments can help a person learn to manage these tendencies to improve their overall functioning and quality of life.
According to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the recommended treatment for anxiety disorders generally consists of some type of therapy, sometimes in combination with medication.
Do I actually have anxiety, or am I overreacting?
It’s possible to feel anxiety and nervousness but not have an anxiety disorder. That’s because feeling anxious or fearful from time to time is a natural human response to a variety of situations.
Such feelings may qualify as an anxiety disorder if they’re persistent, excessive, and/or negatively impact daily functioning, work, school, relationships, and/or overall well-being. If you’re wondering how to know if you have anxiety, meeting with a mental health professional like a therapist for evaluation and support is typically recommended.
How long does anxiety last?
Clinical anxiety is considered to be a treatable condition rather than a curable one. That means a tendency toward anxious thought patterns may not go away, but you can learn healthy coping techniques for effectively managing them.
Is anxiety is a mental illness?
Occasional feelings of anxiety are generally considered to be a normal response to certain stressful or uncertain life situations. These do not typically qualify as an anxiety disorder until/unless they reach the point of being persistent, excessive, and/or negatively impacting a person's daily functioning and well-being. Anxiety disorders (such as separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and others) are considered to be clinical, diagnosable mental illnesses.
How common is anxiety?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders affect around 30% of adults at some point in their lifetimes. They’re currently the most common type of mental illness in the United States.
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