Anxiety is a very normal part of our lives, though not all anxious thoughts result in serious disorders. Typically, anxious feelings are temporary, and our attitudes brighten up the minute the circumstances change, but for some, the cloud of anxiety continues to hang around.
But did you know that anxiety is not always bad?
When you learn how to manage and channel it carefully, anxiety motivates us to become more creative, productive, safe, and resourceful. It can help you break down barriers while creating new bonds.
Whether you have already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or having your first experience with occasional anxiety, it is possible to lead a healthy, effective, and positive life.
So how do we begin taming anxiety?
The first step to manage anxiety is to learn to identify it: how it feels and how it manifests itself. The second stage includes taking action to manage it in day-to-day life with easy lifestyle tips like dietary changes and exercise.(1)(1)
Let's explore this article together to gain a better understanding of several types of anxiety disorders and learn some coping strategies used for coping with symptoms.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
The symptoms of anxiety are highly variable in terms of type, intensity, frequency, and duration. Most people go through two different sets of symptoms; physical and psychological.
The psychological symptoms of stress and anxiety can be categorized into two. It include: (22)
Symptoms of Anxiety Related to Fear:
a. Constantly worrying about something that is out of proportion to the impact of the feared event.
b. Considering events or situations threatening even when they aren't.
c. Fear of making wrong decisions
Symptoms of Anxiety in the Mind and Thoughts:
a. Difficulty in handling uncertainty.
b. Overthinking about solutions to all worst-case outcomes.
c. Failure to let go of worrisome thoughts and ideas.
d. Difficulty concentrating.
f. Feeling like being on edge all the time.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are categorized based on the different parts of the body it affects. It may include:
a. Loss of hair, which leads to hair thinning and can involve clumps of hair falling out
b. Feelings of clumsiness, leading to poor limb coordination
c. Hyperekplexia, which is a condition that makes you jumpy and easily startled
a. A feeling of shortness of breath where you have to force yourself to inhale and exhale
b. Esophageal spasms, which cause a sudden feeling of pain and flutter radiating to the back, throat, neck, jaw, and arms.
c. A racing heart that may beat so fast that you feel like it will break open your chest
a. Temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ), a disorder characterized by teeth grinding (bruxism) and jaw clenching
b. A feeling of having a tight band around your head, leading to pressure and tightness
c. A burning brain feeling that may make you feel like your brain has been flooded by something hot.
a. An itch or tickly feeling in the ear that you cannot pinpoint
b. A feeling of ear blockage due to something stuck in it, like a pebble
c. Symptoms of ear pressure, such as ear popping
a. Feeling like you have a tight band around your chest
b. Palpitations or occasionally skipping heartbeats
c. Stabbing pain, particularly in the back
a. Voice changes, such as becoming shaky, crackly, broken, hoarse, weak, uneven, or with a random pitch
b. Hypersalivation leading to excessive spitting, squirting or drooling
Loss of bladder or bowel control leading to incontinence
a. The body feels heavier to carry than usual
b. A sudden chemical surge that makes you feel as if your body is under pressure
c. Sensory overload, which is characterized by a feeling that your brain is being bombarded by auditory, visual, touch, smell, and taste stimuli.
a. Experiencing floaters, which include cobwebs, wiggly lines, strings, or spots in the visual field
b. Eye tricks, such as seeing things that are not there in your peripheral vision
c. Darting eyes (nystagmus), are characterized by involuntary back-and-forth movements of the eyes.
a. Flushed/red skin
c. old clammy skin
Insomnia, bizarre dreams, sleep paralysis.
Sometimes these worries won't consume you completely, but you may still feel anxious for no apparent reason. For example, some people constantly have a general feeling that something terrible is about to happen.
Is Anxiety Inherently Bad?
Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of daily life. Characterized by a losing control fear or an uneasy feeling about some contingency, experts believe anxiety to be a primal physiological effect that helped our ancestors remain safe for thousands of years by protecting themselves from impending danger.
By activating the sympathetic nervous system, anxiety increases our heart rate, dilates our pupils, raises blood sugar, and tenses our muscles to prepare us to face potential threats. Today, mild symptoms of stress and anxiety help us prepare for job interviews, keep us on top of deadlines, and guide us to take a well-lit street instead of a dark alley. Anxiety is not inherently bad, but instead, it is a survival mechanism built within our nervous systems.
Once the potential threat is over, so are the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which restores a state of homeostasis in the body. This can be done by identifying and managing the underlying risk factors of your anxiety threat.
Anxiety becomes problematic when the body does not get a chance to take a breath and restore homeostasis. Instead, it keeps cycling between high-stress levels from the beginning of the day till the very minute we hit the bed. These constant high-stress levels keep the fight-or-flight system active in the body all the time, putting the body in a high-alert mode. (3)
The fight-or-flight response, also known as sympathetic mode, is also not good or bad, and, in most cases, our body needs it to save our lives. Problems begin to arise when we do not give our brain a chance to switch over to a parasympathetic state or the rest-and-digest phase. This phase works in opposition to the fight-and-flight mode and relaxes the body.
Simply put, our bodies are good to go as long as we maintain a balance between the two states. The minute the state of your nervous system tips towards the sympathetic mode, the downstream effects of anxiety are likely to show up.
Are Anxiety Disorder Symptoms Different from Anxiety Symptoms?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to many everyday situations and events in life. It acts as an internal warning system that alerts us to threats and dangers and prepares our bodies to handle them safely.
For most people, anxiety appears in manageable amounts, while for others, it may become so overwhelming that it fits the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder.
It is common to feel confused whether what you are experiencing are normal symptom of anxiety or suggest an underlying anxiety disorder.
Includes worry about real-life events, such as an argument with a friend, homework, or an upcoming exam.
Makes one feel awkward or self-conscious in social setups
Triggers symptoms like having butterflies in the stomach or sweating before a big moment,
Includes realistic fears about a painful or upsetting situation
Can make you feel upset or experience trouble sleeping following a bad incident
On the other hand, an anxiety disorder:
Includes constant worry about irrational things that often interfere with everyday life;
May make you avoid social situations altogether;
Causes symptoms similar to everyday anxiety, even when there is no stress-inducing situation triggering it;
May induce unrealistic fears about a problem with no risk or threat
Can cause recurring flashbacks about a bad incident that occurred some time ago
Anxiety Symptoms in Women
These symptoms in women are typically similar to those in men. The only difference is that women may experience them more frequently than men and process them differently. (4) (55)
Some typical anxiety attack symptoms in females are mentioned below:
Persistent thoughts about everything that may go wrong
Sudden fear of illness, embarrassment, or death
Palpitations and chest pain
Dizziness and sweating
Shortness of breath
A tendency to get easily stressed
A choking sensation
Muscle pain, tightening, and tension
Hives and rashes on the body
Anxiety Symptoms in Men
Men are less likely to suffer from anxiety attack symptoms than women and usually have higher remission rates. (6) However, this does not mean that they never get anxious. In reality, men who develop the signs and symptoms of anxiety usually feel pressured to express their emotions in a more masculine way and hide their anxious feelings instead of showing them.
Some of the symptoms they may develop include:
Irritability and anger
Abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with anxiety symptoms
Muscle pain and aches
Most men tend to display aggression instead of nervousness because it is considered more socially acceptable. Since they cannot express their anxious thoughts in a healthy way, they may come out in anger outbursts.
Anxiety Symptoms in Children
From the very first day at school to keeping up with homework and getting good grades – some level of anxiety symptoms in children are completely normal and many of them experience it from time to time.
Some, however, may constantly get stuck in this cycle of constantly worrying about every little thing life throws at them.
Some common childhood anxiety symptoms include: (77)
Frequent crying spells
Behavioral changes, such as aggression, moodiness, clinginess, or temper tantrums,
Always worrying or experiencing negative thoughts
Complaints of stomach aches or headaches
Changes in appetite
Lack of confidence
Hoarding insignificant items
Feeling too anxious about fitting in
Constantly striving for approval
Spending an excessive amount of time doing homework
Refusal or struggle to go to school
Sleep problems, including nightmares
Several Types of Anxiety Disorders and Their Symptoms
Anxiety disorder can be of different types, each with a different set of symptoms. (88)
Agoraphobia includes the fear of being in a situation where escape may feel difficult, such as leaving home alone, being in enclosed spaces or crowds, or using public transportation. These situations trigger anxiety symptoms, such as fainting, dizziness, and falling, because you fear you wouldn't be able to find help or escape them.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms occur due to constant worry and stress about everyday events and may include:
Feeling easily fatigued
Feeling restless or on-edge
Difficulty controlling worries
Physical symptoms of anxiety, such as stomach aches, unexplained pains, and muscle aches
Panic disorder symptoms
The hallmark of a panic disorder is recurrent panic attacks, that include a combination of psychological and physical distress. The symptoms of these attacks include:
Shortness of breath
Chills or hot flashes
Fear of dying or losing control
Abdominal pains or nausea
Tingling or numbness
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Feelings of detachment
Because the symptoms are so severe, many people who experience a panic attack may believe they are having a heart attack or other life-threatening illness. They may go to a hospital emergency department.
Selective mutism symptoms
If you feel like your child is experiencing selective mutism, look for the following symptoms: (99)
A desire to speak that is often held back by fear, embarrassment, or anxiousness
Loss of eye contact, expression, or movement in threatening situations
Inability to speak in specific social situations and at school
Ease of speaking in certain situations but not in others
Using nonverbal cues to communicate needs, such as pointing or head nodding
Reluctance to speak due to extreme shyness between 2 to 4 years of age
Separation anxiety disorder symptoms
Separation anxiety symptoms in children are triggered by a worry of being distanced from a family member or a loved one and commonly include:
Refusal to sleep alone
The reluctance to be alone
Muscle tension and aches
Worrying about the safety of a family member or getting distanced from them
Experiencing nightmares based on a theme of separation
Feeling overly worried when parted from loved ones
Frequent physical complaints, including headaches and stomach aches
Being clingy, even at home
Temper tantrums and panic at the time of separation from caregivers
Worrying too much about self-safety
Social anxiety disorder symptoms
Social anxiety symptoms include an intense, constant fear of being judged or watched by others. Such people with anxiety disorders may experience the following in social situations:
Trembling, sweating, or blushing
A racing or pounding heart
Feeling self-conscious in social situations
Fear of judgment from others
Difficulty making eye contact or talking with people they don't know
Rigid body postures or speaking in an overly soft tone
Symptoms of specific phobias
A phobia refers to an intense fear of specific situations or objects. Sometimes, feeling anxious about these objects or situations is realistic; however, people with phobia fear it much more intensely than expected. Some symptoms of a specific phobia include:
Excessive or irrational worry about facing the feared situation or object
Enduring unavoidable problems and objects with great anxiety
Experiencing immediate anxiety upon facing the feared situation or object
Taking active steps to avoid the feared situation or object
Substance-induced anxiety disorder symptoms
This type of anxiety-induced symptom occurs due to substance use, such as alcohol, heroin, cocaine, opioids, and more. These symptoms may include:
A pounding heartbeat
Tightness or pain in the chest
Shortness of breath
Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
Trouble concentrating or paying attention
Significant nervousness or worry
Fear of death
Feeling very cold or very hot
A feeling like you are losing control of yourself
Other specified anxiety disorder symptoms
Other specified anxiety disorders include all other types of phobias or anxieties whose symptoms are disruptive and distressing but don't fit into any specific classification. These symptoms may include:
Feeling irritable or easily fatigued
Having frequent headaches, stomach aches, or pain in other parts of the body without any explanation
Difficulty controlling worries
Risk Factors of Anxiety that Affect Cognitive Functioning
In addition to causing physiological symptoms like a racing heart and shortness of breath, anxiety is very capable of impacting a person's cognitive functioning and behavior. For instance, it may cause you to frequently check if the front door is locked or force you to avoid things you need to do, such as participating in a meeting.
Increasing evidence suggests that anxiety can also affect cognitive processes and working memory, leading to various adverse effects. Studies have concluded that people with symptoms of severe anxiety automatically perceive threats in any situation in response to any stimulus, compromising potentially crucial ongoing tasks.(1010)
A person with generalized anxiety disorder symptoms may also find it difficult to separate themselves from frightening words and images, making it difficult for them to perform a task properly.
Many signs and symptoms of anxiety can easily capture and maintain your attention, making it harder to focus on anything. It can also significantly reduce your attention span, bringing your creativity and efficiency down significantly.
As a result, you may struggle to be productive at home, school, and the office.
Effective Management Techniques for Anxiety Symptoms
Most people with mild to moderate signs and symptoms of anxiety are able to easily manage it on their own. The following list of do's and don'ts can help reduce anxiety:
Try to share your feelings with a family member, friend, health professional, or counselor. You may also consider talking to a helpline if you don't have support available at home.
Engage in exercises, such as walking, swimming, running, and yoga, to relax your mind and body
Use calming breathing exercises to stop the anxious thoughts from racing through your mind.
Improve your sleep hygiene if you are struggling to get a restful sleep every night
Try eating healthy food with regular meals to keep your energy levels stable
Consider seeking peer support to manage your anxiety through community-based support groups
Don't try to handle everything at once. Set small targets and manage them one by one
Don't waste time and energy on things you cannot change, and focus on helping yourself feel better.
Try not to use cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or engage in activities like gambling to relieve anxiety, as they only contribute to poorer mental health.
Try not to think that you are alone, as most people with anxiety do
Do not avoid situations that provoke anxiety. Instead, build up the courage and stamina to face them, which will gradually reduce your anxiety.
When to see a medical or mental health specialist
Worried about your rising anxiety levels but not sure if you should see a doctor about it? It is advised to consult a medical or mental health professional if:
You are experiencing anxiety attack symptoms for the very first time
You are still experiencing excessive anxiety despite getting treatment
You feel like your anxious feelings, actions, and thoughts are taking over your life or negatively affecting it
Your anxious thoughts are making you experience suicidal thoughts
You are already on anxiety control medication and therapy and require a follow-up to monitor your progress
How do you know if you have anxiety?
If you are worrying uncontrollably and it is causing distress and affecting your school, work, or social life, you might suffer from anxiety. No matter how much you try, you are unable to get rid of these feelings.
Can you have anxiety symptoms without being anxious?
You can have physical anxiety symptoms without truly feeling anxious. This may be true for people who are unaware of being anxious or that their anxious behaviors are the reason for their physical symptoms.
What are unusual symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety may present itself in the form of several unusual symptoms, like indigestion, ear ringing, skipped heartbeats, physical numbness or tingling, and burning sensations in the skin, eyes, tongue, and lips.
What is the most severe level of anxiety?
The most severe level of anxiety, often termed panic level anxiety, includes repeated episodes of intense anxiousness, terror, and panic attack that lasts within minutes. It is often associated with shortness of breath, rapid heart fluttering, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
What makes anxiety worse?
Several things can make anxiety worse, such as chronic stress, lack of sleep, unhealthy diet, excessive caffeine or alcohol intake, social isolation, and negative self-talk. Additionally, certain medical conditions and medications can also worsen its symptoms.
How does anxiety affect the brain?
Persistent anxiety attack symptoms cause the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear, to grow, intensifying the body's response to threats. Conversely, it shrinks and degenerates the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, leading to cognitive and memory-related impairments.
What does anxiety feel like mentally?
The mental symptoms of anxiety and depression can cause people to feel nervous, tense, and unable to relax due to a constant sense of dread.
In what situations do you feel anxious?
Different situations trigger signs and symptoms of anxiety in other people, such as ongoing financial worries, work-related stress, a death in the family, a social gathering, traumatic events etc.
What is anxiety in everyday life?
Every day anxiety may pop up in different forms, such as feeling worried about an upcoming exam, having a medical test, or a job interview.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety is not a medical or mental illness but a natural emotion crucial for survival in dangerous circumstances. It converts into a disorder when this reaction becomes exaggerated, leading to uncomfortable symptoms like headaches, sweating, palpitations, chest pain, and tightness, etc. that target different parts of the body.
Overall, anxiety can quickly turn into a debilitating condition, but fortunately, it is manageable with lifestyle modifications and everyday tips.
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