What is Anxiety?
Many people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. In fact, anxiety is a very normal response to stressful life events like moving, changing jobs, or having financial troubles. However, when anxiety symptoms 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 people can manage them with proper help from a medical professional. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step. In this article, we discuss 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 symptoms is excessive worrying. People with anxiety disorders will worry disproportionately about events or everyday situations. A doctor will diagnose someone with a generalized anxiety disorder if this worrying occurs on most days for at least 6 months and is difficult to control. The worrying must also be severe and intrusive, making it difficult to concentrate and accomplish daily tasks.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder affects around 6.8 million Americans, roughly 3.1 percent of the United States population. However, less than 45 percent of people with the disorder are receiving treatment. Women are also twice as likely to have a generalized anxiety disorder than men, and the disorder commonly occurs alongside major depression.
When someone is feeling anxious, part of their sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. This is one of the most common anxiety symptoms.
This kicks off effects throughout the body, such as:
- Racing pulse
- Sweaty palms
- Shaky hands
- Dry mouth
These anxiety symptoms occur because your brain believes you’ve sensed danger, and it’s preparing your body to react to the threat. Your body carries 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 from 2014 even suggests that people with anxiety disorders are not able to reduce their arousal as quickly as people without anxiety disorders. This means they may feel the effects of anxiety for a longer period of time.
Restlessness is another of the most common anxiety symptoms, 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.”
While restlessness does not occur in all people with anxiety, it’s one of the signs doctors frequently look for when making a diagnosis.
Becoming easily fatigued is one of the potential anxiety symptoms. 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 others may feel fatigued almost all the time. It’s unclear whether this fatigue is due to other common anxiety symptoms, such as insomnia or muscle tension, or whether it may be related to the hormonal effects of chronic anxiety. 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. This is one of the most common anxiety symptoms. A study of 175 adults with generalized anxiety disorder found that almost 90 percent reported having difficulty concentrating. It also found that more intense anxiety was linked to more trouble concentrating.
Some studies show that anxiety can interrupt working memory, which is 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 attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression, so difficulty concentrating is not enough evidence to diagnose an anxiety disorder.
Most people with anxiety disorders also experience excessive irritability. This is one of the most common anxiety symptoms. According to a 2015 study of adolescents in the United States, there is a direct link between anxiety disorders and irritability. Compared with self-reported worriers, young and middle-aged adults with a generalized anxiety disorder reported more than twice as much irritability in their day-to-day lives.
Having tense muscles on most days of the week is another of the frequent anxiety symptoms. While tense muscles may be common, the association with anxiety is unclear. It’s possible that muscle tenseness itself increases feelings of anxiety, but it’s also possible that anxiety leads to increased muscle tenseness, or a third factor could cause both.
Trouble Falling or Staying Asleep
Sleep disturbances have a strong association with anxiety disorders. People with an anxiety disorder may find themselves waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling asleep. Some studies suggest that people with insomnia are 10 to 17 times more likely to develop further mental health conditions such as anxiety.
While insomnia and anxiety are strongly linked, it’s unclear whether insomnia leads to anxiety, anxiety leads to insomnia, or both. What is known is that if a person treats their underlying anxiety disorder, insomnia often improves as well.
Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder in which a person may experience recurring panic attacks. Panic attacks produce an intense, overwhelming sensation of fear that can be debilitating.
During a panic attack, a person may also experience:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Panic attacks can happen as isolated occurrences, but they may be a sign of panic disorder if they occur frequently and unexpectedly.
Avoiding Social Situations
You may be showing anxiety symptoms if you find yourself:
- Feeling anxious or fearful about upcoming social situations
- Worried 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 5 to 10 percent of people worldwide. Social anxiety tends to develop early in life. In fact, the average age of people with a social anxiety disorder is 13, while around 90 percent of people diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder receive their diagnosis by age 23.
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, they may feel extreme fear and anxiety.
Extreme fears about specific things — such as spiders, enclosed spaces, or heights — could be a sign of a phobia. A phobia is extreme anxiety or fear about a specific object or situation. The feeling is severe enough that it interferes with your ability to function normally.
Some common phobias include:
- Animal phobias: These include fear of specific animals or insects.
- Natural environment phobias: People with these phobias will feel anxious about natural events like hurricanes or floods.
- Blood-injection-injury phobias: This includes fears of blood, injections, needles, or injuries.
- Situational phobias: These phobias include fears of certain situations like an airplane or elevator ride.
Agoraphobia is another phobia that involves fears of at least two of the following:
- Using public transportation
- Being in open spaces
- Being in enclosed spaces
- Standing in line or being in a crowd
- Being outside of the home alone
Around 12.5 percent of Americans will experience a specific phobia during their lifetime. These phobias tend to develop in childhood or the teenage years.
Natural Ways to Reduce Anxiety Symptoms
There are many natural ways to reduce anxiety symptoms and help you feel better, including:
- Eating a healthy diet: Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, high-quality meats, fish, nuts, and whole grains can lower the risk of developing anxiety disorders, but diet alone is probably not enough to treat them.
- Consuming probiotics and fermented foods: Taking probiotics and eating fermented foods are linked with improved mental health.
- Limiting caffeine: Excessive caffeine intake may worsen feelings of anxiety in some people, especially those with anxiety disorders.
- Abstaining from alcohol: Drinking alcohol can affect your anxiety, so it may help to stay away from alcoholic beverages.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking may increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Exercising often: Regular exercise may lower the risk of developing an anxiety disorder, but it’s not clear whether it helps those who already have an anxiety disorder.
- Trying meditation: Meditation-based therapy may significantly reduce symptoms in people with anxiety disorders.
- Practicing yoga: Regular yoga practice may reduce symptoms in people with anxiety disorders, but more high quality research is needed.
When to Seek Professional Help
Anxiety can be debilitating, so it’s important to seek professional help if your anxiety symptoms are severe. If you feel anxious on most days and experience one or more of the symptoms listed above for at least 6 months, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Regardless of how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms, if you ever feel like your emotions are interfering with your life, you should seek professional help. Licensed psychologists and psychiatrists can treat anxiety disorders through a variety of methods.
Treatment often includes cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety medications, or some of the natural therapies listed above. Working with a professional can help you manage your anxiety and reduce your symptoms as quickly and safely as possible.
Reclaim Your Life From Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety symptoms should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide to you, or someone you love, anxiety treatment with professional and safe care. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 Hood, A., Pulvers, K., Spady, T. J., Kliebenstein, A., & Bachand, J. (2015). Anxiety mediates the effect of acute stress on working memory performance when cortisol levels are high: a moderated mediation analysis. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 28(5), 545–562.
 Cornacchio, D., Crum, K. I., Coxe, S., Pincus, D. B., & Comer, J. S. (2016). Irritability and Severity of Anxious Symptomatology Among Youth With Anxiety Disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 55(1), 54–61.