Understanding Anxiety Disorders: A Guide

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found details that suggest that anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting about 40 million Americans, or 18% of the population 18 and older. 

However, not everyone experiences anxiety disorders in the same way. There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, and understanding the signs, the various types and treatment options can help you identify and manage your own symptoms—or support others in your life who may be experiencing the disorder’s effects.

Anxiety can impact us in intense ways

Understanding anxiety disorders (and their many possible appearances)

Everyone might experience nervousness as a normal reaction to stress or anticipation. But when you feel the effects of anxiety disorders most of the time, or it starts to impact your daily life, it can be a sign that you might be living with an anxiety disorder—and that you may benefit from mental health support. 

Some people may be more likely to experience anxiety disorders than others, including: 

  • Adults and early childhood survivors of trauma

  • People who have experienced acute or chronic stress due to a medical illness

  • People who have let stress build up and have no healthy release

  • Individuals who might align with anxious personality types

  • Individuals with a family history of anxiety

  • Individuals who use drugs and alcohol

Anxiety signs and symptoms

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, all of which can present with a range of manifestations. You may notice the following symptoms and signs in yourself or others:

Poor memory, focus, and concentration

If you have an anxiety disorder, you may have difficulty concentrating on tasks. You might also find yourself to be distracted or overwhelmed. 

Tension, irritability and worry

If you’re living with anxiety disorder, you may notice muscle tension and aches and pains—or you might be more easily irritated with people and situations. You might also worry often, possibly finding it difficult  to turn the intrusive or negative thoughts “off.”

Feeling a loss of control and nervousness

People who live with an anxiety disorder might feel as if they have no control over their life or that they’re losing control. Fear of impending danger or inevitable misfortune is another common symptom. As a result, they might find it difficult to leave the house, attend social events, work or sleep at night.

Rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing, and dizziness

Many who live with an anxiety disorder might find that they can become so nervous that their heart rate and blood pressure increase. This can lead to a range of symptoms as a result, including rapid breathing or difficulty breathing. Dizziness and vision changes might follow, depending on the severity of the symptoms experienced.


Some people who live with anxiety disorders might become so nervous they begin to sweat, which can be a side effect of other physical changes (such as rapid heart rate, fast breathing and shaking).

Shaking hands and body

If you are experiencing nervousness as a result of an anxiety disorder, you may start to shake. This reaction can occur as a result of increased adrenaline flowing through your system due to nervousness, which can trigger the body's response to fear and stress.

Increased fatigue with associated sleep issues

Sleep problems that can be related to anxiety disorders may present in many ways: such as too much sleep, too little sleep, difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, tossing and turning all night and daytime drowsiness.

Fearing the worst

People who live with anxiety disorders may constantly fear the worst—possibly worrying that something will go wrong, even if there is no obvious reason for this fear. This is generally known as catastrophizing, in which one might fear the worst possible case scenario.


If you’re living with the effects of an anxiety disorder, you may have trouble relaxing and feel like you can't turn off your body or mind. As a result, your mind may race, and your body may not be able to settle down and get comfortable as it fears it will need to flee or move.

Headaches and migraines

If you have a history of migraines and headaches (and even if you don’t), anxiety disorders can prompt them to come on more frequently, and they may be more intense in nature. These symptoms might be rooted in the constant tension you are experiencing in your body.

Nausea or vomiting

Some people can become so nervous due to anxiety disorders that they become nauseous from the stressful thoughts and physical reactions happening in the body. This can cause chronic, low-grade or high-grade nausea that may or may not be accompanied by vomiting. 


The many types of anxiety disorders: A brief overview

There are many types of anxiety disorders, including: 

Generalized anxiety disorder

People who live with generalized anxiety disorder might often feel nervous, many times without knowing the root cause in a definitive, concrete way. Their symptoms may be more physical than emotional, ranging from shakes to chest pain (angina). Some might also experience an emotional component to the condition, which can cause mood swings and intense feelings of nervousness. 

Panic disorder

Panic disorder can take many forms, and generally includes symptoms such as physical panic attacks and fear of having a panic attack. As a result, many might experience a cycle of panic and constant nervousness, which can cause future attacks to feel more intense. These attacks can be so severe that some people may feel they are having a heart attack when they aren’t.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder generally centers on the belief that no one likes you or no one will like you in new social or work situations. Some people might think of this as shyness, but it is generally much more for many people. Rather than just discomfort in crowds, the disorder can manifest in other experiences—generally appearing with both physical and mental symptoms. 

Individuals may experience significant distress in social situations due to the fear of being negatively evaluated by others.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

This type of anxiety disorder generally affects an individual after they witness or experience a traumatic event. PTSD can manifest with additional anxiety disorder symptoms, along with others—such as nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, isolation, and avoidance of situations that remind the person of the event.

How do I help someone who lives with an anxiety disorder?

People who live with anxiety disorders might live with a great deal of distress during the day, which possibly affects their ability to function. It can be helpful for many when partners take the time to learn about the condition and the possible ways that they can help, empowering them to provide as much support as possible as they work through feelings of distress and nervousness. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some of the most impactful ways that you can assist someone living with severe anxiety disorder symptoms can include :

  • Educating yourself regarding health information that can be related to anxiety as a mental health disorder (or other related disorders) 

  • Encouraging them to seek health care treatment, such as therapy

  • Helping them with breathing techniques if they are experiencing difficulty breathing

  • Helping them to set goals for the day that can support their overall ability to function

  • Showing them encouragement and support

  • Providing them with validation

Untreated anxiety is something that may get worse over time without treatment. 

Anxiety treatments and supportive strategies 

Common anxiety disorder treatments generally include prescription medication and psychotherapy, though some research shows that psychotherapy can be more effective than medication. It can also be more available to many.

Options range from online treatment to support groups that connect you with people with panic disorder and those who are experiencing anxiety in their lives. Some individuals may also turn to self-help books that teach cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) methods designed to treat anxiety, control fear, and cope with feeling anxious. 

It’s all about finding the right treatment for you. Sometimes it’s best to speak with your primary care provider for recommendations on how they’d like to see your anxiety treated based on your medical history, genetic, and environmental factors. Recommendations might range from anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications to acceptance and commitment therapy. Additionally, anxiety may increase your risk of heart attack, so it’s good to let your phsyician know about the condition even if you’ve already found treatment through a mental health provider. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Anxiety can impact us in intense ways

Find support via online therapy

If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorders and are curious about treatment, you might consider online therapy with a mental health professional. Online therapy can be more available than traditional methods for many who live with anxiety disorders. This can be for several reasons and generally depends on the needs of the patient in question. For example, Some people who live with anxiety disorders may find it easier to speak with a therapist from the distance and namelessness of being behind a screen. They might also appreciate the flexibility you can get with an online therapy option compared to an in-person setting. 

Is online therapy effective? 

Multiple sources have found details that support the hypothesis that online therapy can be effective at treating multiple types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, and social anxiety. 

Ready to learn more? Consider reaching out to a BetterHelp therapist to get started.


Anxiety disorders are generally regarded as the most common mental health condition in the U.S., showing up for many as a range of changing symptoms. If your anxiety disorder symptoms are affecting your daily life, online therapy can help you figure out how to live well. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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