Many people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Learn about the most common anxiety disorders signs and symptoms.
In fact, anxiety is a very normal response to stressful life events like moving, changing jobs or having financial troubles.
However, when symptoms of anxiety become larger than the events that triggered them and begin to interfere with your life, they could be signs of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can be debilitating, but they can be managed with proper help from a medical professional. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step.
Here are common symptoms of an anxiety disorder, as well as how to reduce anxiety naturally and when to seek professional help.
One of the most common anxiety signs is excessive worrying.
The worrying associated with anxiety disorders is disproportionate to the events that trigger it and typically occurs in response to normal, everyday situations .
To be considered a sign of generalized anxiety disorder, the worrying must occur on most days for at least six months and be difficult to control.
The worrying must also be severe and intrusive, making it difficult to concentrate and accomplish daily tasks.
People under the age of 65 are at the highest risk of generalized anxiety disorder, especially those who are single, have a lower socioeconomic status and have many life stressors.
When someone is feeling anxious, part of their sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive.
This kicks off a cascade of effects throughout the body, such as a racing pulse, sweaty palms, shaky hands and dry mouth.
These anxiety signs occur because your brain believes you have sensed danger, and it is preparing your body to react to the threat.
Your body shunts blood away from your digestive system and toward your muscles in case you need to run or fight. It also increases your heart rate and heightens your senses.
While these effects would be helpful in the case of a true threat, they can be debilitating if the fear is all in your head.
Some research even suggests that people with anxiety disorders are not able to reduce their arousal as quickly as people without anxiety disorders, which means they may feel the effects of anxiety for a longer period of time.
Restlessness is another common anxiety, especially in children and teens.
When someone is experiencing restlessness, they often describe it as feeling “on edge” or having an “uncomfortable urge to move.”
One study in 128 children diagnosed with anxiety disorders found that 74% reported restlessness as one of their main anxiety symptoms.
While restlessness does not occur in all people with anxiety, it is one of the red flags doctors frequently look for when making a diagnosis.
If you experience restlessness on the majority of days for more than six months, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Becoming easily fatigued is another potential symptom of generalized anxiety disorder.
This symptom can be surprising to some, as anxiety is commonly associated with hyperactivity or arousal.
For some, fatigue can follow an anxiety attack, while for others, the fatigue can be chronic.
It’s unclear whether this fatigue is due to other common symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia or muscle tension, or whether it may be related to the hormonal effects of chronic anxiety.
However, it is important to note that fatigue can also be a sign of depression or other medical conditions, so fatigue alone is not enough to diagnose an anxiety disorder.
Many people with anxiety report having difficulty concentrating.
One study including 157 children and teens with generalized anxiety disorder found that more than two-thirds had difficulty concentrating.
Another study in 175 adults with the same disorder found that almost 90% reported having difficulty concentrating. The worse their anxiety was, the more trouble they had.
Some studies show that anxiety can interrupt working memory, a type of memory responsible for holding short-term information. This may help explain the dramatic decrease in performance people often experience during periods of high anxiety.
However, difficulty concentrating can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, such as an attention deficit disorder or depression, so it is not enough evidence to diagnose an anxiety disorder.
Most people with anxiety disorders also experience excessive irritability.
According to one recent study including over 6,000 adults, more than 90% of those with generalized anxiety disorder reported feeling highly irritable during periods when their anxiety disorder was at its worst.
Compared to self-reported worriers, young and middle-aged adults with generalized anxiety disorder reported more than twice as much irritability in their day-to-day lives.
Given that anxiety is associated with high arousal and excessive worrying, it is not surprising that irritability is a common symptom.
Sleep disturbances are strongly associated with anxiety disorders.
Waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling asleep are the two most commonly reported problems.
Some research suggests that having insomnia during childhood may even be linked to developing anxiety later in life.
A study following nearly 1,000 children over 20 years found that having insomnia in childhood was linked to a 60% increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder by age 26.
While insomnia and anxiety are strongly linked, it is unclear whether insomnia contributes to anxiety, if anxiety contributes to insomnia, or both.
What is known is that when the underlying anxiety disorder is treated, insomnia often improves as well.
One type of anxiety disorder called panic disorder is associated with recurring panic attacks.
Panic attacks produce an intense, overwhelming sensation of fear that can be debilitating.
This extreme fear is typically accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea and fear of dying or losing control.
Panic attacks can happen in isolation, but if they occur frequently and unexpectedly, they may be a sign of panic disorder.
An estimated 22% of American adults will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives, but only about 3% experience them frequently enough to meet the criteria for panic disorder.
Avoiding Social Situations
You may be exhibiting signs of social anxiety disorder if you find yourself:
- Feeling anxious or fearful about upcoming social situations
- Worried that you may be judged or scrutinized by others
- Fearful of being embarrassed or humiliated in front of others
- Avoiding certain social events because of these fears
Social anxiety disorder is very common, affecting roughly 12% of American adults at some point in their lives.
Social anxiety tends to develop early in life. In fact, about 50% of those who have it are diagnosed by age 11, while 80% are diagnosed by age 20.
People with social anxiety may appear extremely shy and quiet in groups or when meeting new people. While they may not appear distressed on the outside, inside they feel extreme fear and anxiety.
This aloofness can sometimes make people with social anxiety appear snobby or standoffish, but the disorder is associated with low self-esteem, high self-criticism and depression.