Anxiety Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of anxiety can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of anxiety.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

While many people experience some type of anxiety at some point in life, there are some individuals who experience anxiety at a level that can be extremely distressing and hinder functioning when trying to complete even the most mundane tasks. When a person experiences ongoing feelings of apprehension, fear, or worry, he or she is likely suffering from an anxiety disorder. Mental health conditions that have the potential to prevent a person from performing well at school or work, thinking clearly, or interacting with others in social settings, anxiety disorders are illnesses that often require therapeutic intervention in order to alleviate symptoms. The following anxiety disorders are among the most common diagnosed in people and frequently require such care:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an appropriate diagnosis for someone who battles ongoing anxious feelings and is unable to control them despite attempts to do so. Overwhelming thoughts and feelings that doom is impending are common, in addition to worries that do not appear to have logical origins.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that involves intrusive obsessions and compulsions that cause an individual to engage in repetitious thoughts and behaviors as a way to seemingly alleviate anxious feelings. Oftentimes, sufferers of this condition wish to be free of these symptoms, however, the obsessions and compulsions are often so overpowering that these individuals remain in the cyclical pattern of experiencing obsessions and partaking in compulsive actions.

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that involves intense, and oftentimes irrational, fears pertaining to social situations. Sufferers of this disorder tend to avoid environments or situations in which social interaction is necessary as the fear of embarrassment or scrutiny from others is overwhelming and extremely anxiety-provoking.

Panic disorder involves sudden episodes of panic that eventually subside after a period of time. This disorder can cause an individual to experience a number of physical symptoms, including increased heart rate, profuse sweating, dizziness, and shaking, that cause sufferers to feel as though they are on the brink of death. Those who battle this illness often cannot relay the cause for the panicked feelings, though the symptoms can cause enough of a disruption that functioning is hindered.

Luckily, there are treatment options available that can alleviate anxiety disorder symptoms and teach sufferers new methods for coping. By seeking treatment, anxiety disorder sufferers can come to realize a life without the debilitating symptoms of these types of mental health conditions.


Anxiety statistics

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions diagnosed in people of all ages. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has reported that approximately forty million adults, aged 18 or older, suffer from a type of anxiety disorder. Additionally, children and adolescents are known to suffer from anxiety and it has been estimated that one in every eight children and adolescents grapple with the crippling symptoms of anxiety.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

Mental health professionals agree that several contributing factors influence the onset of anxiety disorder symptoms. The following are elaborations on how a person’s genetics, physiological makeup, environmental influences, and other risk factors influence the onset of anxiety and are widely agreed-upon concepts among professionals:

Genetics: Similar to other mental illnesses, anxiety disorders are known to run in families. Experts in the field of mental health have conducted extensive research on anxiety and have found that many people who meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder often have a family history of such disorders. Because of this finding, experts believe that the development of anxiety can be rooted in one’s genetics.

Physical: Researchers believe that there is a strong link between the presence of an anxiety disorder and chemical imbalances in the brains of sufferers. When certain neurochemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, have not achieved homeostasis, an anxiety disorder is often the result. The reason for this is due to the fact that chemicals in the brain are responsible for regulating emotional responses and impulses. When a person battles anxiety and has difficulty responding to situations in an emotionally healthy way or has trouble controlling impulses, these chemical imbalances are believed to contribute to the turmoil experienced by those with this type of mental health condition.

Environmental: Certain circumstances and environmental influences are believed to cause or trigger the onset of anxiety disorder symptoms. Repeated exposure to overtly stressful situations or having a history of trauma, abuse, and/or neglect can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder or disorders. Additionally, if one experiences financial strife or instability at home there is a high likelihood that an anxiety disorder could manifest.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of an anxiety disorder(s) or other mental health condition
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Personal history of experiencing trauma
  • Possessing certain personality characteristics and temperament
  • Highly demanding school or work environments
  • Inadequate support network
  • History of abuse and/or neglect
  • Exposure to chronic stress
  • Unstable home environment
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

There are a number of signs and symptoms that suggest an individual is grappling with an anxiety disorder. However, certain symptoms can depend on the type of anxiety disorder present. The following are behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms of anxiety disorders and should be reported to a mental health professional in the event treatment is sought to alleviate symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Participating in ritualistic behaviors
  • Inability to perform appropriately at work or school
  • School refusal (in children and adolescents)
  • Social isolation
  • Angry outbursts or temper tantrums
  • Avoidance of certain people, places, or situations
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to relax
  • Procrastinating

Physical symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Frequent urination
  • Feelings of weakness
  • Feeling overly fatigued
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
  • Sweating
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Muscle tension
  • Chronic headaches and stomachaches

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Intense obsessions
  • Irrational compulsions
  • Flight of ideas
  • Mind going blank
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Repetitive thinking
  • Racing thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dramatic shifts in mood
  • Constant worry
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling powerless
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Feelings of guilt


Effects of anxiety

Allowing symptoms of an anxiety disorder to remain could elicit a number of adverse effects that can impact a person’s life. The following are examples of such effects that could be avoided if treatment is sought:

  • Decline academic functioning
  • Academic failure
  • Poor occupational functioning
  • Loss of employment
  • Development of a substance use problem
  • Discord with family members
  • Increased conflict within interpersonal relationships
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • The development of another anxiety disorder or other mental health condition
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

Anxiety disorders are known to exist alongside other mental health conditions. Oftentimes, an anxiety disorder can trigger or be triggered by the symptoms of another mental health disorder. The following mental illnesses are those that can be diagnosed at the same time as an anxiety disorder:

  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
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