A Guide to Anxiety Symptoms and Treatments
Practicing clinicians, regardless of their field, are very familiar with anxiety. Doctors frequently induce anxiety in people, as evidenced by increased pulse rate and blood pressure.
Occasional, situation-based anxiety is normal and can even be helpful. Low-grade manageable anxiety can help you stay focused and engaged.
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However, people with anxiety disorders have excessive and persistent anxiety that is pervasive and interferes with their daily life. These uncomfortable feelings typically begin in childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 3% of U.S. adults experienced generalized anxiety disorders in the past year, and almost 6% have experienced it at some point in their lifetime. The prevalence of anxiety is twice as high (3.4%) in women than in men (1.9%).1
Temporary Causes of Anxiety
Almost any aspect of life can cause temporary anxiety for someone. Anxiety-producing events can even vary in the same person on a day-to-day basis. A missed bus or an unexpected phone call can be handled with ease on a day that is going according to schedule, and you have had adequate sleep and stable blood sugar. Poor sleep quality and missed meals may be the tipping point that causes everyday stressors to provoke significant anxiety.
Common temporary causes of anxiety include:
- Public speaking
- Job interviews
- Not meeting expectations
- An argument with a loved one
- Scheduling hassles
- Romantic dates
- Social events
- Athletic or performance events
- Taking tests
The main types of anxiety disorders, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: people with this condition have uncontrollable worry about everyday events and concerns that would be considered to be disproportionate to the perceived threat.
- Panic disorder: This condition is characterized by sudden and intense panic attacks that cause uncomfortable physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, and a pounding heartbeat.
- Phobia: People with this condition have an intense and irrational fear of a specific object or situation. Examples might include a fear of heights, blood, flying, tornados, snakes, or spiders.
- Social anxiety disorder: Fear of judgment or embarrassment can cause people with a social anxiety disorder to avoid all social situations or only selective ones.
- Separation anxiety: This anxiety disorder causes intense fear or anxiety when an affected person is away from a person or environment that makes them feel secure.
- Agoraphobia: This isolating anxiety disorder is due to a fear of situations or places that commonly cause people to feel trapped in their homes.
- Selective mutism: This condition is more common among children. It causes an inability to speak in certain, specific social situations.
- Substance/medication-induced anxiety: Alcohol, drug use, or even prescription medications can cause anxiety in some people.
- Anxiety due to a medical condition: Anxiety disorder is due to a comorbid medical condition. For example, thyroid disorders may cause anxiety as a side effect.
- Other specified and unspecified anxiety disorders: These categories are diagnosed when a person experiencing anxiety does not meet the criteria for one of the other anxiety disorders.
Risk Factors for Anxiety
Risk factors that may make you more likely to experience anxiety include:2,
- History of trauma, especially as a child
- Family history, a genetic predisposition to anxiety
- Chronic stress, financial or relationship difficulties
- Poor health from comorbid conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure
- Psychological or cognitive health conditions
- Temperament, fearfulness, wariness, avoidance, obsessive traits
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Generalized anxiety can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms. You may experience some or all of the following:
- Hair loss
- Brain fog
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Difficulty with uncertainty
- Difficulty making decisions
- Inability to relax
- Racing heart
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
Long-term Effects of Anxiety
Untreated anxiety can increase your risk of physical, social, and mental conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Chronic indigestion
- Irritable bowel
- Chronic pain
- Substance misuse
- Relationship problems
- Loss of libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain
- Eating disorders
See your doctor, psychologist, or counselor if you are experiencing chronic anxiety or anxiety that affects your day-to-day life. Seeking professional guidance will help ensure you get an accurate diagnosis and the opportunity to learn about all potential treatment options. Some potential medical treatment options include:
- Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Support groups
Ways to Deal with Anxiety
For situational anxiety, here are 7 tips to reduce anxiety and manage stress:
- Try box breathing and other breathing exercises
- Ensure you get 7 to 9 hours of restorative sleep each night
- Exercise regularly
- Find supportive people
- Practice mindfulness and other calming techniques
- Eat a nutritious, satisfying, and regularly timed diet
- Avoid triggers such as caffeine
Common Comorbid Disorders
Comorbid disorders are two or more conditions occurring simultaneously in an individual. Examples of disorders that commonly cooccur with anxiety include:
- Depression: brain health and mental health commonly intersect
- Substance use disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Cardiovascular disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic obstructive lung disease
- Thyroid disease
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
1. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.617. Erratum in: Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jul;62(7):709. Merikangas, Kathleen R [added]. PMID: 15939839; PMCID: PMC2847357.
2. Gottschalk MG, Domschke K. Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and related traits. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(2):159-168. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/kdomschke
3. Siegmann E-M. Association of Depression and Anxiety Disorders With Autoimmune Thyroiditis A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(6):577-584. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0190