Anxiety can feel paralyzing. It may seep into every aspect of your life. Anxiety can interfere with your health, sleep, relationships and career. You may experience anxiety in waves or have what seems like constant underlying anxiety. If you think your worrying is beyond what’s normal, learn more about anxiety signs and symptoms.

Anxiety Signs

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder. Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders can take many forms. You likely feel it both physically and mentally. Anxiety can keep your fight, flight or freeze responses on high alert. You may regularly have a clenched jaw and tight muscles. Your stomach may be in knots. You may feel mentally exhausted from the hamster wheel of worries in your head. Untreated anxiety can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being.

Symptoms vary by type of anxiety disorder. Not all of the below common symptoms of anxiety will signal an anxiety disorder. However, they could be red flags to consider an evaluation by a mental health professional.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Signs

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include ongoing, excessive, unrealistic worry. You worry about everyday things despite little to no cause for concern. Your level of worry around stressors is beyond what’s considered normal. Anxiety follows you in everything you do. Generalized anxiety disorder can take several years to reach its peak. If often begins in the teenage years.

Some common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include:

  • Feeling anxious about daily activities, situations and relationships
  • Difficulty managing nervousness or worry
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling tired
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Easily startled
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Aches and pains
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Excessive worry about job security, finances and health of you and your loved ones
  • Frequent sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach problems
  • Headaches
  • Frequent need to go to the bathroom
  • Worry about being late
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A sense that your amount of worry isn’t normal

Panic Disorder

The main symptoms of panic disorder are having panic attacks that seem out of the blue and fearing you’ll have more. A panic attack is an abrupt feeling of intense fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes. Panic disorder also includes at least four of the following symptoms.

  • Pounding heart or fast heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or feeling like you’re being smothered
  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or stomach issues
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Feeling detached from yourself
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

Social Anxiety Disorder Signs

Many people get a little nervous when meeting someone new or at social events. People with social anxiety disorder feel intense dread and fear around social situations. You may feel like people are watching and judging you most of the time. You’re terrified of drawing attention to yourself or even having to speak around others. You’re worried you’ll look and sound “dumb.”

Social anxiety disorder can affect everyday activities. You may fear eating or drinking in front of people. You may also have a fear of public restrooms. Sometimes social anxiety disorder symptoms are so intense they impact school, work and relationships.

Social anxiety disorder symptoms may include:

  • Blushing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Dry throat and mouth
  • Trembling
  • Muscle twitching
  • Nausea
  • Stomach issues
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Feeling detached
  • Loss of self-control

People with social anxiety are at risk for substance abuse. You may drink or use drugs before and in social situations to help you relax and feel more confident. You may develop a tolerance and start drinking more and more to get the same effect. From here it can be a slippery slope into addiction.

Phobias

Phobias are irrational fears. Phobias may revolve around people, places, things or situations. These irrational thoughts become intrusive and obsessive. They can drive you to:

  • Turn your life upside down to avoid objects or activities for fear of harm or danger
  • Experience extreme anxiety in circumstances where leaving is not easy or getting help is difficult
  • Frequently avoid social situations for fear of rejection and humiliation

There’s a seemingly never-ending list of phobias. Some common ones include:

  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of crowds
  • Fear of vomiting
  • Fear of water
  • Fear of blood
  • Fear of small spaces
  • Fear of lightning or thunder
  • Fear of animals like dogs
  • Fear of unfamiliar places or people
  • Fear of snakes

Phobia disorders can come with physical symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat or rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Stomach pain
  • Tight chest
  • Feeling of choking
  • Feeling dizzy or nauseous
  • Feeling like you’re losing control

Other Anxiety Issues
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were originally classified as anxiety disorders. They now have their own separate diagnoses. Obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD symptoms have some overlap with anxiety symptoms.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder involves repetitive, irrational thoughts. People with OCD feel an overwhelming urge to complete an action, thought or routine in order to feel relief from anxiety or gain a sense of control. You’re likely aware that your behavior isn’t normal but feel powerless to stop it. OCD symptoms may include:

Obsessions:

  • Putting objects in a certain order
  • Aggressive thoughts about self or others
  • Fear of uncleanliness or germs
  • “Forbidden” thoughts around sex, violence and religion

Compulsions:

  • Checking things over and over again (for example, if the oven is on)
  • Cleaning or washing hands excessively
  • Counting compulsively
  • Arranging or putting things in a very specific order

People with OCD spend at least an hour or more each day on problem thoughts and behaviors. You don’t feel pleasure from your behaviors. They exist to keep anxiety at bay. OCD may cause problems in your personal and professional lives.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Trauma can lead to physical and mental health symptoms. Impactful events that can lead to PTSD include:

  • Rape
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse or neglect
  • Emotional abuse or neglect
  • Military combat
  • Natural disasters
  • Any kind of assault

Symptoms of PTSD often include:

  • Avoiding triggering situations
  • Numbing with substance abuse or other destructive behaviors
  • Severe anxiety when in situations that bring up feelings around the event
  • Being “jumpy”
  • Trouble feeling emotions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

How to Treat Anxiety

People with anxiety disorders can manage their symptoms with the right treatment. Anxiety treatment may include:

  • Assessments to diagnose any co-occurring medical conditions or mental health disorders
  • Behavioral treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Anti-anxiety medications to help reduce anxiety symptoms
  • Emotional regulation training
  • Stress- and anxiety-reducing activities like fitness and mindfulness

Left untreated, anxiety can get worse over time. The good news is anxiety is treatable. If anxiety is getting in the way of your life, reach out. We can help you develop tools and strategies to manage anxiety and live free from paralyzing worry and fear.

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Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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