Everyone experiences some form of stress throughout their lives. Anxiety shows up in all kinds of ways. One consistency with anxiety is that nearly 300 million people worldwide experience an anxiety-ridden disorder before. Whether that is from work stress, family, environment, or socioeconomic status. But when does that stress turn into anxiety? It’s different for everyone, and luckily, there are many signs and symptoms to keep in mind.
Table of Contents
- What is Anxiety?
- Common Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- Common Causes of Anxiety
- Types of Anxiety
- Common Treatments for Anxiety
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is our brain’s way of reacting to stress, perceived threats, and fear. It is a normal emotion alerting us of potential danger ahead. Occasional anxiety is often healthy, helping us to prepare for and pay attention to stressful events. It, however, might be classified as a medical disorder when an individual feels disproportionate levels of anxiety that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, and worry.
Anxiety can come up at any stage of life, similar to stress, at any time of the day. More than 40 million Americans from ages 18 and older. That is around 19 percent of the population annually. (1) Anxiety disorders can range from mild to severe and are often highly treatable. But, many people affected by anxiety do not seek treatment. Anxiety disorders are also one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Anxiety disorders can affect many other aspects of healthcare as well. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders are 3-5 times more likely to seek out a doctor than those without, as one example.
Who suffers from anxiety the most? It’s a mixture, but women are twice as likely to develop anxiety as men. Women under the age of 35 are the most common group affected by anxiety. The cause for young adult women and increased anxiety is not clear, but some believe it may be due to poor sleep habits and even social media. Furthermore, those with some chronic conditions are more likely to experience anxiety. For example, 10 percent of adults with cardiovascular disease also had some form of anxiety. (2)
Anxiety can be helpful in certain situations, but it can also be crippling. Those jitters you may feel before a big presentation or test are completely normal. They can even be helpful in certain situations to keep you on your toes. A healthy dose of anxiety is necessary in disastrous or dangerous moments, for example. (3) But, those who suffer from heightened and prolonged anxiety can find it hard to get through the day and even complete simple tasks. That is when anxiety reaches a debilitating phase. Prolonged anxiety can often create negative health issues downstream.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Every person dealing with Anxiety feels it differently. Some common signs and symptoms of general anxiety include:
1. Feeling Nervous or Restless Often
While it is normal to feel nervous or even restless sometimes, especially before a situation that can provoke anxiousness, prolonged nervousness is associated with anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is the most common form of anxiety. There is a survey called the PHQ-GAD survey that is the gold standard among therapists and health professionals. That survey goes through a series of questions to determine a person’s anxiety and depression levels. (4) If you are feeling nervous or restless often and you’re not sure why it is best to seek out professional treatment to help resolve any issues that may be coming up.
2. Excessive Sweating and/or Increased Heart Rate
Sweating is another common anxiety symptom. This happens because when stress levels rise, the heart rate raises along with body temperature. When stress hormones are turned on, it can be hard for many to move back into a normal resting state. The resting state is also known as the parasympathetic state or rest and digest. That is where the body should optimally be, except when in danger or when in a temporary stressful state. When you are in a high anxiety state, the body is in fight or flight mode or a sympathetic state. (4) If you feel you are sweating more than normal regularly, be sure to seek out a medical professional.
3. Experiencing Panic
This can be simply feeling panicked or experiencing a panic attack. Panic attacks are one of the most common symptoms of anxiety disorders. Nearly 2.4 million Americans experience panic attacks in their lives. (5) Those who experience panic attacks often first appear in young adulthood. A panic attack can manifest in the body in different ways. It often is described as feeling like a heart attack. That is because chest pain or tightening, along with dizziness, and nausea are very common symptoms. If you experience panic attacks, you are not alone, and help is available.
4. Feeling Fatigued or Weakness
Sometimes when anxiety disorders come up, feeling a sense of fatigue or even weak can come up. When the body goes through lengthy stress or anxiety, these are extremely common symptoms. The body takes on a lot of physical stress at the same time emotional distress or anxiety happens.
5. Rapid Breathing
The reason for rapid breathing is because when anxiety or high stress kicks in, the first reaction in the body is increased breathing, due to an increased heart rate. That is why one of the most common and helpful strategies to decrease stress or anxiety is deep breathing or meditation. (6) Learn more about this technique in the treatment section below.
6. Trouble Concentrating or Fidgeting
When it becomes difficult to concentrate on everyday tasks or habits like watching TV or reading, you may have a stress or anxiety disorder. This can also include becoming more fidgety than normal or speaking at a slower pace than you are used to. (7) If you experience any of these symptoms regularly, it may be beneficial to seek outside help from a licensed professional. This can often be associated with past trauma but is not always the case. There is no harm in asking for help if you are not feeling your best.
7. Muscle Tension
Anxiety has many physical characteristics in the body as well. That is because high stress and anxiety can affect how the body absorbs nutrients. To support muscles and joints, a balanced diet is necessary. If you are not eating enough or eating too much inflammatory food, that can affect joint function. (8) Optimal digestion to fully absorb nutrients, especially those that promote relaxation, are necessary when the body is in the rest and digest state as well.
8. Sleep Disturbances
Sleep issues or disturbances can also be a sign of anxiety. This can manifest as having a difficult time getting to sleep or even waking up in the middle of the night frequently. It can also mean you are perhaps sleeping too much or not feeling rested at all.
Common Causes of Anxiety
Anxiety can easily affect many areas of one’s life, and the causes range from genetics to the environment, and much more. Feelings of anxiety are associated most with restlessness, uneasiness, and much more.
1. Environment and/or Life Events
Common life events that can bring up anxiety can include anything from marriage, divorce, a new baby, death in the family, and more. Your environment can be a large determinant of developing anxiety. There are many lifestyle factors to consider when it comes to anxiety. Environmental concerns, relationship issues, and much more can contribute to anxiety. This means it is possible to suffer from anxiety even if it does not run in your family. Financial predicaments are another type of environmental stressor that can cause anxiety for many. Other environmental factors can be of a more physical nature. For example, low oxygen levels from high-altitude areas may contribute to anxiety symptoms.
2. Past Trauma
Trauma is a common reason for anxiety, both mild and severe. Many people have unresolved trauma from childhood or even later in life. PTSD is a common form of anxiety, also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learn more details about this below.
3. Genetics and Brain Chemistry
Anxiety can also come up if you have a family history of anxiety or depressive disorders. People with anxiety disorders tend to run in families, so that is why there may be a genetic component. (9)
4. Poor Diet
A lack of nutrients in your diet may have a direct correlation with increased anxiety as well. (10) Nutritional psychiatry is growing, and for good reason. The food you eat may play a major role in your anxiety. Anxiety may occur from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and one factor that can lead to an imbalance in the body is nutrient deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals like magnesium, B vitamins, antioxidants, and more are tightly correlated to brain health and anxiety.
Types of Anxiety
1. Social Phobia
This is often referred to as social anxiety disorder as well. This phobia often manifests as a fear of being seen in public eating or speaking. These fears can persist over time and be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. (11) Social phobia may start from other events that may trigger the stress response as well. That can be anything from a test, presentation, any type of public speaking event, and more. Many may mistake social phobia with shyness, but that is not the case. Those with social phobia have a deep fear of being scrutinized in social situations. Nearly 4o percent of social phobias occur before the age of 10. Also, 95 percent occur before the age of 20. Some research shows that fewer than 25 percent of people with social phobia receive treatment. Many with social phobia may even experience agoraphobia for fear of having a panic situation in public.
2. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD comes up when someone fears their life was threatened or they experienced physical harm. The most common occurrence with PTSD is in those who were in combat or the war. They can also come up from physical assaults, disasters, and accidents. The reason PTSD develops is the person has a hard time recovering from the original threat or even a perceived threat that reminds them of what happened. The condition can last up to several years, and often comes with many triggers that can take the person back to where the original incident occurred. Some symptoms can include unwanted memories reappearing, nightmares, a depressed mood, and more.
3. Panic Disorder
As previously discussed, panic disorder often manifests in panic attacks. These can cause chest pain, dizziness, nausea, loss of sight, and feel very similar to having a heart attack. Many times, when a person first experiences a panic attack, they confuse it with having a heart attack for the similarities. Panic disorder affects nearly 6 million people in the United States, and women are twice as likely to suffer from panic. Panic attacks can even occur while you sleep. Also, it is possible to get a panic attack without being diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic attacks can occur with general anxiety and many other mental health problems or disorders. Diet and regular exercise may have a highly effective impact on panic disorder.
4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is another very common anxiety disorder in which a person is particularly anxious about details. This can come out as obsessions with cleaning, checking things around the house, and more. These acts are known as rituals and provide temporary relief for the affected person (12). OCD is extremely common. One in 100 adults is diagnosed with OCD. OCD can happen at any time in childhood or adulthood. Although developing OCD is most common in children ages 10 to 12 years old. Often people with OCD suffer from unreasonable thoughts or habits. One example of a common behavior with OCD is checking the locks before you leave many times.
5. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This is the most common form of anxiety that is brought on by excessive worrying. Many people can suffer from a range of either mild to severe generalized anxiety throughout their life. This type of anxiety disorder can occur at any age, and the symptoms are very similar to those of panic disorder. Those symptoms range from restlessness, constant worry, trouble with concentration, and more. General anxiety disorders can drastically increase the chance of having health problems later in life as well. Heart disease is the number one disease associated with anxiety disorder, but others include substance abuse, gastrointestinal conditions, respiratory diseases, and more. One common gastrointestinal condition brought on by stress or anxiety is IBS or inflammatory bowel disease.
Common Treatments for Anxiety
There are some treatment options for anxiety and you should discuss with your doctor about exploring the right options. Some of them include:
Self-care can range from a wide variety of options. Taking the time to care for yourself is an important piece of maintaining a low-stress state. Self-care to help with anxiety can range from reducing caffeine, avoiding or limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, adding more physical exercise, and more. Other ways to make sure you are practicing self-care are by eating a healthy diet and practicing relaxation techniques, especially if you are prone to anxiety or high stress. Diaphragmatic breathing is one example of how effective deep belly breathing can be to reduce anxiety and stress (13). There are even some foods that may help to relieve anxiety as well.
Therapy is one of the most common solutions for anxiety disorders. Therapy may help a person better cope with past trauma, including assaults, childhood events, and more. Therapy provides a safe space for people to express how they are feeling without being judged or attacked. Therapy can range from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), meditation or yoga, and psychotherapy. In cognitive-behavioral therapy or talk therapy, the therapist focuses on helping to reduce negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that often come up from past-life events. Meditation or yoga may be helpful for those who experience anxiety because it focuses on improving mental health through relaxation. Psychotherapy is very similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy but deals with the treatment of mental or behavioral disorders with the option of medications.
In severe cases of anxiety, medications are often used to help a person cope with the fear, nervousness, obsessions, or compulsions they may face. The most common anxiety medications include antidepressants, sedatives, and SSRIs. These are prescribed by a psychiatrist after proper evaluation. Some other anti-anxiety medications include a group called benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan). These medications can often provide temporary relief for those who suffer from severe anxiety disorders. However, there are some implications if these are used long-term. Long long-term use of these medications may have the opposite effect, making anxiety worse for some. (14)
Anxiety is an extremely common disorder that many people experience at some point in their lives. It is most common in younger women, but a range of different anxiety disorders are present in many men as well. High stress and anxiety can often be related, especially during a life change or disaster.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness, and should not be stigmatized as a weakness. Anxiety disorders may manifest in many different ways like depression, PTSD, OCD, or even social anxiety. If you know someone who may need help with their mental health, let them know there are options. While there are many different types of anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder is the most common. There is a link between anxiety and depression, so seeking help is the best way to go. Natural alternatives to anxiety can include meditation, social support, diet intervention, breathing exercises like breathwork, and even other acts of self-care.
Always seek professional help if you are suffering from any level of anxiety and feel you do not know how to manage it. There is always help available.