anxious woman

Symptoms & Signs of Anxiety

Anyone can feel anxious in a situation that seems dangerous or arouses fear or uncertainty. For most individuals, this anxiousness fades quickly when disagreeable situations end and does not interfere significantly with the normal course of everyday life. However, some individuals develop feelings of anxiety in situations that most people would find completely nonthreatening. In certain cases, these feelings grow strong enough to cause serious personal distress. People who experience such problems may qualify for an official diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Let’s take a look at the symptoms and signs of commonplace anxiety, as well as specific anxiety disorders.

Common Anxiety

The term anxiety is used to describe a range of unpleasant emotions, including worry, fear, dread, nervousness, apprehension, self-consciousness and agitation. In context, these feelings can act as completely appropriate responses to many of life’s common ups and downs. For instance, you may rightly feel fear in a physically dangerous situation. Worry is an understandable response to many situations, including such things as money troubles or relationship problems. You may feel nervous before a public speaking event or a big meeting. In the aftermath a major traumatic event, you may experience temporary symptoms of extreme anxiety, as well as sadness and other intense emotions.

Anxiety Disorders

The American Psychiatric Association officially recognizes eight primary anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobia, panic attack, panic disorder, selective mutism and separation anxiety disorder. There are also four secondary conditions in this category. Each anxiety disorder produces its own specific signs and symptoms. However, all of them have a negative impact on affected individuals that’s serious enough to interfere with daily life and diminish a lasting sense of well-being.

Shared Symptoms

Some emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety are common to multiple types of anxiety disorder. Shared emotional issues can include:

  • A tendency to expect the worst in a given situation
  • Feelings of agitation or restlessness
  • Dread of current or upcoming circumstances
  • Jumpiness or nervousness

Shared physical issues can include:

  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Stomach distress
  • Headaches
  • Unusually high sweat output
  • Muscle spasms or tremors

Symptoms of Specific Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder — People affected by this condition worry excessively about commonplace events and situations. These worries resist attempts at emotional control and appear repeatedly throughout the day, even in seemingly benign or harmless circumstances.

Social Anxiety Disorder — This condition is also known as social phobia. Affected individuals feel an intense fear of judgment or scrutiny in social situations or when called upon to participate in any sort of performance. This fear goes well beyond the scope of everyday shyness.

Agoraphobia — People with this disorder experience feelings of helplessness or extreme fear when they find themselves in situations or locations they can’t easily escape. Situations that can act as a trigger include being in crowded environments and being alone while outdoors. Locations that can act as a trigger include elevators and bridges.

Specific Phobia — People affected by this condition feel irrational fear only when in a certain situation or location, or when in the presence of certain things or animals. Potential sources of a phobic reaction include high places, confined spaces, germs, dogs or other animals, buses, airplanes and doctors’ offices.

Panic Attack and Panic Disorder — A panic attack or anxiety attack is an unexpected bout of terror that can produce symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, lightheadedness and hyperventilation. Some affected individuals experience only isolated or occasional attacks. However, others experience repeated attacks, and therefore qualify for a diagnosis of panic disorder.

Selective Mutism — This disorder typically appears in young children. Affected individuals fail to speak in certain situations, but speak readily in others. Symptoms often appear in school and disappear at home or in other unstructured or informal settings.

Separation Anxiety Disorder — This disorder also typically appears in young children, occurring most often between the ages of 7 and 9. It is marked by an age-inappropriate fear of losing sight of (or contact with) a parent or other accustomed figure, including other family members.

Resources

National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Anxiety Disorders
http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

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