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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can you self-diagnose anxiety?
An official, clinical diagnosis of anxiety or any other mental health disorder should only be made by a qualified provider. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of anxiety or another disorder, it’s typically recommended that you meet with a mental health professional for evaluation and advice on next steps.
What causes anxiety?
Mental health disorders like anxiety are believed to be caused by a combination of factors, which may include genetics, certain personality traits, parenting behaviors witnessed or experienced during childhood, and the experience of stressful and/or traumatic life events.
Is anxiety a mental illness?
Common anxiety is a normal part of the human experience and doesn’t necessarily indicate a mental illness. However, chronic anxiety that persists and negatively impacts daily life may be indicative of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that are generally characterized by persistent worry that is difficult to control, avoidance of feared situations, and physical symptoms.
What Are The First Signs Of Anxiety?
The way anxiety disorders manifest can vary from person to person. That said, a persistent sense of fear and worry that is out of proportion to the situation at hand is a common indicator of anxiety early on, as restlessness, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances may also be. If you’ve begun to experience symptoms of anxiety, it may be worth seeking professional support.
How Do You Feel When You Have Anxiety?
When you experience clinical anxiety symptoms, you may feel restless, overwhelmed with fear, weak or lethargic, overheated, physically tense, and/or fatigued.
What Happens If Anxiety Is Left Untreated?
Anxiety disorders are considered to be treatable. If they are not treated, they can have significant negative impacts on a person’s work, school, relationships, daily functioning, and overall well-being. An untreated anxiety disorder may also result in the development of other mental health conditions, such as depression, panic disorder, substance use disorders, and even an increased risk of certain physical health conditions like diabetes and heart failure.
Does Ignoring Anxiety Make It Go Away?
Ignoring symptoms of anxiety does not make them go away. Instead, it can worsen symptoms and even potentially result in the development of other co-occurring conditions like panic disorder or depression. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, effective treatment is available.
How Long Does Anxiety Last?
How long anxiety lasts depends on many factors, including the individual’s overall health, the type of disorder they have, their life circumstances and history, and others. Some people can start to see an improvement in symptoms within a few months, while it may take longer for others.
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