6 Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

Published on: 01 May 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R
Man anxiously looking out of window.

Anxiety is a normal human response to stressful or overwhelming events. It’s normal for human beings to experience some form of apprehension when faced with situations like financial challenges, starting a new phase of life, or a global pandemic. Those fleeting moments of agitation have been essential for the survival of our species, as they trigger a rush of adrenalin that helps us figure out ways to avoid dangerous circumstances.

In some cases, however, this feeling of apprehension may become so severe that it results in intense tension, nervousness, and panic. When this occurs, it is often a sign that anxiety has developed into a mental health condition. Anxiety symptoms can impact a person’s behavior and impair their normal way of life. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of anxiety disorders in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis and learn to manage the condition as early as possible. Remember, you don’t have to live with anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety Symptoms that Indicate Medical Disorder

An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that involves frequent and persistent feelings of terror or panic that are often graver than the situation that triggered them requires. The condition also often interferes with a person’s daily activities.

According to statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is a very common condition that affects an estimated 40 million adults in the United States. However, these statistics also show that only 36.9 percent of people affected by the condition receive treatment. The stigma associated with mental illness, among other factors, contributes to this lag in the treatment of anxiety. Additionally, having no knowledge about the signs and symptoms of anxiety can prevent a person from reaching out for help. They may not believe that what they are experiencing warrants treatment or that they are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, a serious but treatable condition.

The level of awareness about anxiety disorders has improved significantly over the years, but there is still a need for a wider conversation, especially during this global pandemic. Many of us are currently living with some degree of panic and apprehension, but it can be even more difficult for those already dealing with anxiety. Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of anxiety can help you determine whether the worry and fear you may feel could be a sign of a more serious condition.

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety symptoms typically fall into three categories, namely: physical symptoms, mental symptoms, and emotional/behavioral symptoms. These symptoms may vary from person to person, but there are some common indicators of anxiety. Below find six of the most common symptoms of anxiety.

1. Panic attacks

Panic attacks are often a major sign of severe anxiety. They are quite common, and many people experience them a few times in their lives, especially when faced with a particularly stressful situation. However, persistent panic attacks may be indicative of a panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of intense fear, which sets off a range of extreme physical reactions even where there is no threat of actual danger.

Research has shown that only three percent of Americans experience panic attacks frequently enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder. There is no doubt, however, that a panic attack can be a frightening experience that can significantly affect your life. How can you tell if you’re experiencing a panic attack? In an article for SELF, nine people who were interviewed described their panic attacks as a fearful experience.

“The physical symptoms are unlike anything else I’ve felt,” said Sam, one person who had experienced frequent panic attacks. “I feel a tightness in my chest so pronounced it actually feels like choking, dizziness like I’ve been hanging upside down for hours, tingling legs and numb hands. The exhaustion the next day is also uncanny.”

2. Uncontrollable and frequent fits of worry

Constant worry over a particular situation is also associated with anxiety, especially when this feeling of worry is disproportionate to the events that trigger it, or when it occurs frequently in the course of regular day-to-day activities. Anxiety is also often accompanied by a feeling of nervousness or tension, or obsessive thoughts about impending doom or danger that are mostly unwarranted. This symptom often fits the diagnostic criteria for Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Worrying is a normal response when faced with uncertain or uncontrollable circumstances, but when it occurs constantly over a long period of time and becomes uncontrollable or intrusive — preventing you from going about your daily routine — it may be a sign of severe anxiety.

3. Restlessness and agitation

Anxiety tends to speed up your heart rate and put your nerves into overdrive, which can cause sweaty palms, heart palpitations, a feeling of tightness in the chest or restless body movements like shaking, pacing, or trembling. This restless or agitated feeling can be a sign of anxiety if it occurs frequently and is triggered by ordinary events.

In some cases, this symptom can develop into extreme situations like hyperventilation or difficulty concentrating on a particular task. When these signs occur together, they can make you feel weak or tired. Studies have shown that people who have severe anxiety are often unable to control their agitation quickly and easily, and they may feel the effects of anxiety for a long period of time.

4. Insomnia/trouble sleeping

One of the most common symptoms reported by people who have been diagnosed with anxiety is difficulty falling or staying asleep. It has also been suggested that people who experienced insomnia during childhood are more likely to develop anxiety in their adult years. This symptom is often prevalent among people who have anxiety because worrying often occurs at night when the mind is less preoccupied, and the lack of sleep that results from worry causes fatigue and irritability, which in turn worsens the effects of anxiety.

5. Compulsive or repetitive behaviors

Compulsive or repetitive behaviors have also been linked to some anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to licensed psychologist Kristi Phillipsthese habits differ from one person to another, but nonetheless, they all fall within the same category of compulsiveness: a pattern of behavior which involves persistent and repetitive actions that provide little or no gratification to the person engaging in them. “A person experiencing anxiety may turn to behaviors like compulsive spending, compulsive saving or hoarding, gambling, and other similar acts,” she said.

Other habits that indicate you may be experiencing anxiety are repetitive physical acts like going back several times to check if your door was properly locked before you leave your apartment, persistent nail biting, skin-picking, and other actions that you may know are disrupting your normal life but which you cannot stop engaging in.

6. Irrational fear

An extreme fear of a particular thing may be a sign of a phobia, especially when this fear is highly disproportionate to the level of danger that such a thing entails. Phobias are a common type of anxiety disorder that can be mild or severe, but nonetheless challenging to live with. The most common kinds of phobias include an intense fear of heights, flying, enclosed spaces, specific animals or insects, and blood.

Apart from the extreme fear that can result from a phobia, having a constant, irrational fear of an unknown event or situation that you believe is about to occur can also be a sign of anxiety, especially when this fear starts to prevent you from engaging in normal, daily activities.

Managing Anxiety

Anxiety can be a severe condition, but being aware of the symptoms is a great first step in learning to manage and control it. If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, it would help to reach out to a licensed mental health professional who will work closely with you to come up with the most effective treatment plan.

Making a few tweaks to your lifestyle can also help with managing anxiety symptoms. These changes may include:

  • Sticking to an organized daily routine Practicing meditation and mindfulness
  • Exercising regularly
  • Engaging in a calming activity such as reading for leisure or listening to soothing music
  • Cutting down alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine intake
  • Keeping a to-do list of daily tasks, so that you can have a more organized and less-stressful life

For so many people living with anxiety, the current pandemic has brought on a spike in the anxiety symptoms they experience. At this time, it is important to protect your mental health and shield yourself from negativity by sticking to only trusted news sources, limiting the amount of time following the news each day, and keeping your immediate environment organized so your mind can be at peace. If you ever feel like you can no longer manage your symptoms on your own, online therapy is a great way to ensure that you never feel alone.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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