Feeling worried or nervous is a normal part of daily life. Everyone frets or feels anxious from time to time. Mild to moderate anxiety can help you focus your attention, energy, and motivation. If anxiety is severe, you may feel helpless, confused, or very worried. But your feelings may be out of balance with how serious or likely the feared event might be. Overwhelming anxiety that interferes with daily life isn't normal. This type of anxiety may be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Or it may be a symptom of another problem, such as depression.
Anxiety can cause physical and emotional symptoms. A specific situation or fear can cause some or all of these symptoms for a short time. When the situation passes, the symptoms usually go away.
Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Trembling, twitching, or shaking.
- A feeling of fullness in the throat or chest.
- Breathlessness or a rapid heartbeat.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Sweaty or cold, clammy hands.
- Feeling jumpy.
- Muscle tension, aches, or soreness (myalgias).
- Extreme tiredness.
- Sleep problems, such as not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep, early waking, or feeling restless (not feeling rested when you wake up).
Anxiety affects the part of the brain that helps control how you communicate. This makes it harder to express yourself creatively or function well in relationships. Emotional symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling restless, grouchy, or on edge or keyed up.
- Worrying too much.
- Fearing that something bad is going to happen. You may feel doomed.
- Not being able to concentrate. You may feel like your mind goes blank.
Anxiety disorders occur when people have both physical and emotional symptoms. These disorders interfere with how a person gets along with others. They also affect daily activities. Women are twice as likely as men to have problems with anxiety disorders. Examples include panic attacks, phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder. When you have generalized anxiety disorder, you feel worried and stressed about many everyday events and activities.
Often the cause of anxiety disorders isn't known. Many people who have them say that they've felt nervous and anxious all their lives. This problem can occur at any age. Children who have at least one parent with the diagnosis of depression are more than twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder than other children.
Anxiety disorders often occur with other problems, such as:
- Mental health problems, like depression.
- Substance use problems.
- A physical problem, like heart or lung disease. A complete medical checkup may be needed before an anxiety disorder can be diagnosed.
A panic attack is a sudden feeling of extreme anxiety or intense fear without a clear cause or when there is no danger. Panic attacks are common. They sometimes occur in otherwise healthy people. They usually last only a few minutes, but they may last longer. And for some people, the anxiety can get worse quickly during the attack.
Symptoms include feeling like you're dying or losing control of yourself, rapid breathing (hyperventilation), numbness or tingling of the hands or lips, and a racing heart. You may feel dizzy, sweaty, or shaky. Other symptoms include trouble breathing, chest pain or tightness, and an irregular heartbeat. These symptoms come on suddenly and without warning.
Sometimes symptoms of a panic attack are so intense that you may fear that you're having a heart attack. Many of the symptoms of a panic attack can occur with other illnesses, such as hyperthyroidism, coronary artery disease, or COPD. A complete medical checkup may be needed before an anxiety disorder can be diagnosed.
People who have repeated unexpected panic attacks and worry about the attacks are said to have a panic disorder.
Phobias are extreme and irrational fears that interfere with daily life. People with phobias have fears that are out of proportion to real danger. They're not able to control the fears.
Phobias are common. They sometimes occur with other conditions, such as panic disorder or Tourette's disorder. Most people deal with phobias by avoiding the situation or object that causes them to feel panic. This is called avoidance behavior.
A phobic disorder occurs when the avoidance behavior becomes so extreme that it interferes with your daily activities. There are three main types of phobic disorders:
- Fear of being alone or in public places where help might not be available or escape is impossible (agoraphobia).
- Fear of situations where you might be exposed to criticism by others (social phobia).
- Fear of specific things (specific phobia).
Phobias can be treated to help reduce feelings of fear and anxiety.