Anxiety Disorders

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Excessive, Irrational Fear

Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms, but all the symptoms cluster around excessive, irrational fear and dread. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a specific event (such as speaking in public or a first date), severe anxiety that lasts at least six months is generally considered to be problem that might benefit from evaluation and treatment.

Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In older adults, anxiety disorders often occur at the same time as depression, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical problems. In some cases, these other problems need to be treated before a person can respond well to treatment for anxiety.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD develops slowly. It often starts during the teen years or young adulthood. Symptoms may get better or worse at different times, and often are worse during times of stress.

People with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Often they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Physical symptoms that often accompany the anxiety include

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • muscle tension
  • muscle aches
  • difficulty swallowing
  • trembling
  • twitching
  • irritability
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness
  • having to go to the bathroom frequently
  • feeling out of breath
  • hot flashes.

When their anxiety level is mild, people with GAD can function socially and hold down a job. Although they don’t avoid certain situations as a result of their disorder, people with GAD can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities if their anxiety is severe.

Symptoms of Social Phobia

In social phobia, a person fears being judged by others or of being embarrassed. This fear can get in the way of doing everyday things such as going to work, running errands or meeting with friends. People who have social phobia often know that they shouldn't be so afraid, but they can't control their fear.

People with social phobia tend to

  • be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
  • be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
  • be very afraid that other people will judge them
  • worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
  • stay away from places where there are other people
  • have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
  • blush, sweat, or tremble around other people
  • feel nauseous or sick to their stomach when with other people.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

In panic disorder, a person has sudden, unexplained attacks of terror, and often feels his or her heart pounding. During a panic attack, a person feels a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control. Panic attacks can occur at any time.

People with panic disorder may have

  • sudden and repeated attacks of fear
  • a feeling of being out of control during a panic attack
  • an intense worry about when the next attack will happen
  • a fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past
  • physical symptoms during an attack, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, feeling hot or a cold chill, tingly or numb hands, chest pain, or stomach pain.

Seeking Treatment

Anxiety disorders are treatable. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor. If your doctor thinks you may have an anxiety disorder, the next step is usually seeing a mental health professional. It is advisable to seek help from professionals who have particular expertise in diagnosing and treating anxiety. Certain kinds of cognitive and behavioral therapy and certain medications have been found to be especially helpful for anxiety.