Anxiety is not a single disorder.
This is incredibly important - anxiety has dozens, possibly hundreds of symptoms, but these symptoms may change depending on the type of anxiety you have. Anxiety disorders are an umbrella term for a group of anxiety conditions, each of which has its own unique signs and symptoms. These anxiety disorders include:
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Agoraphobia without history of Panic Disorder
- Anxiety Disorder due to a General Medical Condition
- Anxiety Disorder not Otherwise Specified
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia
- Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Social Phobia
- Specific Phobia
- Substance Induced Anxiety Disorder
Keep this in mind as you learn about the symptoms of anxiety. Each anxiety disorder can lead to different symptoms and have different diagnostic criteria, and in some cases it's possible for anxiety to cause unusual symptoms that tend to be more specific to one type of disease.
If you're not sure what anxiety you have, or what symptoms may be related to anxiety, I have a free 7 minute anxiety questionnaire that is a great place to start. Fill out the form, and you'll get an instant update on how your anxiety compares to others, what anxiety disorder best describes your symptoms, and more.
Anxiety Can Mimic Other Health Problems
Anxiety is long term stress, and long term stress can affect every part of your body and how it operates. Most people are familiar with sweating and muscle tension, but did you know that in some cases, swollen tongue and rashes may be signs of anxiety?
The Common Anxiety Symptoms
The best place to start for understanding the symptoms of anxiety is with common anxiety symptoms, listed in the table below. These are the symptoms that affect nearly everyone living with anxiety, although different people may experience different degrees of each symptom or some symptoms but not others.
The symptoms of anxiety fall into two categories: emotional and physical.
Many of these symptoms are the same issues you would experience if you had a serious health problem. For example, anxiety can cause chest pains, but so can heart disease. That's why it's still important to visit a doctor and just make sure that you're in good health. Anxiety is extremely common, and it's very likely you suffer from anxiety, but getting a complete checkup to rule out any other conditions is still an important part of treating that anxiety.
In addition, anxiety has a tendency to exacerbate normal symptoms. For example, some people may find a small degree of dizziness or vertigo caused by nothing more than being a bit hungry to be of no concern. But those with anxiety often feel the symptoms more severely, because they're especially tuned into the way their body feels. Because these symptoms feel worse, it can actually create more anxiety, often leading to a cycle that makes anxiety symptoms genuinely worse.
Below is a list of all of the physical and emotional sensations that fall under the heading of "anxiety symptoms." Your experiences may differ depending on the degree of your anxiety and the type of anxiety you suffer from.
Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
- Persistent state of apprehension or fear.
- Feelings of dread without valid cause.
- Concentration problems.
- Inner tension and nervousness.
- Catastrophic thinking.
- Irritability or edginess.
- Restlessness and sleeping problems.
- Hyper-vigilance towards signs of danger.
- Absentmindedness and mind blanks.
- Intense/sudden feelings of panic or doom.
- Fear of losing control or going crazy.
- Feelings of detachment and unreality.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
- Pounding heart/rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Choking sensations
- Stomach cramps
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Hot flashes or chills
- Tremors and twitches
- Muscle tension
It's possible to experience emotional symptoms without any physical symptoms. It's also possible to experience physical symptoms without any emotional symptoms. In most cases, however, those with anxiety experience some combination of both emotional and physical symptoms.
Do Those Symptoms Sound Familiar?
Take my free 7 minute anxiety test. Fill out what symptoms you've experienced and get a snapshot of your anxiety and treatment ideas.
Specific Symptoms of Different Anxiety Disorders
Recall that each anxiety disorder has its own symptoms - symptoms that may not be experienced by those with a different anxiety disorder. It's possible to have more than one anxiety disorder as well. This is called "comorbidity." A breakdown of each individual anxiety disorder is below.
Panic Disorder without Agoraphobia
Panic disorder without agoraphobia affects those that experience random and unexpected panic attacks, as well as the fear of having panic attacks. It may also include those that fear a heart attack, losing control, going crazy, and those that have behavioral changes as a result of their panic attacks.
Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia
Panic disorder can also create a disorder known as agoraphobia. This occurs when those with panic attacks develop a fear of leaving their home, being in social situations, or being in areas where they are unable to escape. In some cases this may be severe enough that those with panic attacks struggle to leave their own home. Panic attacks can create these fears, and when they're present they require a different treatment than panic disorder without agoraphobia; hence the different diagnosis.
Agoraphobia Without a History of Panic Disorder
Some people develop agoraphobia without panic attacks. Symptoms may be caused by life experiences, trauma, social fears, and more. Those with agoraphobia alone will show a fear of public spaces, fear of going outdoors, fear of being in the unfamiliar, and/or the fear of being unable to escape.
Phobias are intense, irrational fears that alter a person's life. Phobias generally fall into 5 categories - fear of animals, fear of nature/natural environments (storms, heights, water, etc.), fear of physical danger (blood, injection, or injury), fear of situations (flying, driving, or using elevators), and other fears (fear of loud sounds, fear of long words, etc.). Phobias are considered irrational if they effect behavior in a way that is inconsistent with the situation, especially if they alter behavior.
Social phobia is more than simply a fear of social situations. It can also include extreme self-consciousness, fear of being watched or judged in seemingly trivial situations, fear of being humiliated, extreme shyness - especially when coupled with low self-esteem, or zero confidence in one's ability to perform normally on a social level.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD involves obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions are generally fearful thoughts that a person cannot shake. Compulsions are the behaviors a person feels they absolutely must perform in order to reduce the anxiety. Typical obsessive thoughts include being fearful of germs and contamination, being afraid of receiving harm or causing harm, religious fanaticism, fear of losing things, obsession with order and symmetry, and being extremely superstitious. Typical compulsions include intense cleaning and washing of themselves or items, arranging / re-arranging, hoarding, making check-up calls, counting, tapping, repeating mantras and prayers. When repeated compulsively, any of these actions may qualify as a symptom of OCD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is generally the result of a traumatic event or events, although in rare cases it may be caused by someone else's traumatic event, or by thoughts regarding a traumatic event. Those experiencing PTSD often experience intrusive thoughts, memories and flashbacks to the source of the trauma, nightmares, feelings of intense distress as a result of the trauma, and avoidance of situations that may mimic the trauma. The person may also start at a higher baseline of fear, so that the smallest change can trigger a startle reflex. In some cases, it may lead to detachment and emotional numbness, as the person loses interest in their future and present.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder is, in many ways, the initial diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. To qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD, a person must experience symptoms for at least 30 days, indicating a chronic problem. However, since the symptoms of PTSD often arise right after the event, during the first 30 days the person likely qualifies for acute stress disorder. Also ,with ASD, there tends to be more emotional disconnection, numbness, dissociative amnesia, and depersonalization.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is persistent anxiety without a known cause. Unlike other anxiety disorders, it does not have any special characteristics other than persistent, often daily anxiety. GAD may also be used as a diagnosis for all of those that have considerable anxiety without the other types of anxiety symptoms/disorders. They may also have milder symptoms (such as mild compulsions) without qualifying for another diagnosis.
Anxiety Disorder Due to Medical Condition
Some diseases and Illnesses cause anxiety, including symptoms that directly mimic anxiety disorders. For example, thyroid conditions can cause sudden and extreme anxiety. Lyme disease can also cause panic attacks and anxiety. While the anxiety may exhibit itself as any of the above anxiety disorders, the exact cause is a medical condition rather than one's mental health.
Substance Induced Anxiety Disorder
Similarly, some drugs (both illegal and prescriptions) can cause anxiety disorder-like conditions. They may occur while the user is intoxicated or upon withdrawal of the drug. Diagnosis of drug induced anxiety disorders must clearly indicate that a drug is causing the disorder. Some anxiety disorders are exacerbated by drugs, but the drugs themselves do not cause the disorder.
Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)
This diagnosis occurs when someone experiences symptoms of an anxiety disorder without any clear cause, and it may include some depressive disorders. Those with this diagnosis often have anxiety that manifests in many of the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety, but doesn't appear to qualify for a specific diagnosis.
What to Do When You Have An Anxiety Disorder
When you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should consult with a trained psychologist. Only a psychologist can provide a diagnosis, and just as you may consult with a medical doctor when you feel sick, so too should you consult a psychologist to ensure proper diagnosis and gain treatment recommendations.
You can also take my free 7 minute anxiety test. It should not be considered a diagnosis - only a psychologist can ensure an accurate diagnosis - but I developed it to give you an idea of what you're likely suffering from based on your symptoms.
Suffering from anxiety is completely natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. It can also be cured completely. But it does take dedication, and a willingness to commit to making your life better. There is no overnight solution, but the right treatment can go a long way towards curing your anxiety and helping you live anxiety free.
So, if you haven't yet, take the test now.
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