Anxiety: Symptoms and Signs

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

Anxiety is a common term for worrying or feeling stressed about things. While everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, some people experience so much anxiety that they cannot stop worrying or feel any positive emotions for much of their day. 

People with high anxiety may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a condition known for persistent, overwhelming worry about a wide variety of issues. People with GAD often find it hard to stop worrying and may switch quickly from one source of worry to another. Other anxiety disorders include Social Anxiety Disorder, in which the person has an intense fear of social interaction, and Panic Disorder, where the person experiences panic attacks and feelings of terror without cause. 

Anyone can have or develop an anxiety disorder. The cause of anxiety may be genetics, or it may develop after stressful life experiences. People with anxiety disorders worry about both rational and irrational events, but both cause equal amounts of stress. While experiencing some anxiety is a part of life, an anxiety disorder can make it difficult to actually live your life.

Anxiety is, by definition, stressful and unnerving. However, there are things you can do to relieve these feelings. Spotting the signs, taking action, and getting treatment can all help. 

Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety can make it difficult to complete daily tasks and may lead to avoiding common situations and places. Several signs can help you spot if you or someone you love is experiencing high levels of anxiety. Here are the signs and symptoms to watch for:

Feelings of Fear

The most common symptom of any anxiety disorder is a feeling of fear when events don’t justify it. Studies suggest that anxiety disorders are the result of fear responses in the brain being stronger and easier to trigger. As a result, people with anxiety feel fear about potential problems much more easily and regularly than people without anxiety. 

Difficulty Concentrating

A common symptom of anxiety and anxiety disorders is having a hard time concentrating on things. You may be so focused on what you’re worried about that you can’t pay attention to work or other people. It may also feel like your mind “goes blank,” and you can’t think about anything at all.

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Jitteriness

When you’re anxious, you may feel jittery, on edge, or even physically shaky. This is in part due to how anxiety makes your muscles tenser. Essentially, when you’re anxious, your body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered. That causes your body to release adrenaline, even if it’s inappropriate for the situation. As a result, you feel jittery and your muscles may literally twitch as your body prepares to fight a threat that may not exist.

Irritability

Feeling constantly nervous and jittery can lead you to feel irritable and snappish. A common side effect of anxiety is irritability, especially in situations that make your anxiety worse.

Insomnia or Sleep Problems

Many people with anxiety experience sleep problems, especially insomnia. The adrenaline and constant worry that comes with many anxiety disorders may make it difficult or impossible to fall asleep. Some people with anxiety also experience nightmares linked to their anxiety. These sleep problems lead to daily fatigue and can seriously affect your quality of life.

Treating Anxiety

If you are living with anxiety, there are a few options for treatment. You can attempt to manage it on your own, you can try either therapy or medication, or you can do a combination of these options. 

Coping with anxiety on your own is always a useful skill. You can reduce anxiety at home by trying things like:

  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Getting daily exercise
  • Focusing on deep breathing
  • Finding distractions
  • Practicing meditation

While these strategies will not cure anxiety, they can help keep it down to manageable levels.

You should also reach out to your physician if your anxiety is impacting your daily life. They can help you identify whether you have an anxiety disorder and the best method of treating your anxiety. It’s important to treat anxiety early because it can get worse over time. In many cases, it’s easier to treat mild anxiety than severe anxiety that has already impacted your entire life.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Tips to Manage Anxiety.”

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Sleep and anxiety disorders.”

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: “The impact of anxiety upon cognition: perspectives from human threat of shock studies.”

Harvard Medical School: “Understanding the stress response.”

Journal of Affective Disorders: “Anxiety and arousal: physiological changes and their perception.”

Mayo Clinic: “Generalized anxiety disorder.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Anxiety Disorders.”

Neuropsychopharmacology: “The Neurocircuitry of Fear, Stress, and Anxiety Disorders.”

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