Anxiety Symptoms, Signs & Effects

Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with anxiety. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of anxiety.

What is Anxiety

Learn More About Anxiety

It is not uncommon for individuals to face some amount of anxiety in their lives, in fact it is quite normal when facing certain circumstances, such as interviewing for a new job. However, for those with anxiety disorders, they face an overwhelming amount of fear and worry so often that it disrupts their ability to function on a daily basis. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders that cause people to feel fearful, uneasy, and distressed in everyday situations which would not normally evoke an anxious response. If left untreated, these disorders can lead to the development of a number of negative consequences, such as inability to work, maintain social relationships, or, in severe cases, leave the house.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Common Anxiety Disorders

Panic disorder: Involves feelings of intense terror that appear out of nowhere, often occurring repeatedly. People who have panic disorder may feel as though they are suffocating, having a heart attack, and going crazy. In order to avoid these panic attacks, people with panic disorder may begin to avoid certain places or situations that may trigger an attack.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A disorder that develops after a person is exposed to a traumatic, terrifying event such as a natural disaster or sexual assault. This disorder leads to flashbacks, avoidance of reminders of the event, and emotional numbness.

Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia: A disorder that involves overwhelming feelings of worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. These may include fears of being judged by others or fears that actions may lead to ridicule or embarrassment. People who have social phobia may have extreme dread and anxiety about daily activities such as going to school or work.

Specific phobias: Fears of a specific situation or object like a fear of heights or a fear of spiders. The level of fear for people who have specific phobias are far stronger than those appropriate for the situation or object and may lead to an avoidance of everyday, common situations.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Disorder that is characterized by extreme, unrealistic worries, tension, or dread, often without a known stimulus. This worrying lasts at least six months, impairs the ability to concentrate, and makes living daily life challenging.

Fortunately, while anxiety disorders can lead to tremendous challenges in a person’s life, they are treatable disorders. With proper care and treatment those who have anxiety disorders are able to lead productive, happy lives.


Statistics of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. About 20% of the U.S. population is affected by anxiety disorders at any given time; meaning that 40 million adults in the U.S. experience preventable feelings of fearfulness, worry, and stress. Reports indicate that about 8% of teens between the ages of 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder with symptoms commonly appearing around the age of 6.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety

Most researchers have come to the consensus that anxiety disorders are not the result of a single risk factor or cause, but instead a combination of environmental, genetic, and physical risk factors working together. The most commonly noted causes and risk factors for anxiety disorders include:

Genetic: People who have relatives, especially a first-degree relative such as a parent, with an anxiety disorder are at a higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder. However, this does not mean that everyone with a family history of anxiety will go on to develop one of these disorders.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies conducted on those who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder show the existence of subtle differences in certain areas of the brain. More specifically, differences were found in the hippocampus and amygdala. Additionally, abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, may be involved in the development of anxiety disorders.

Environmental: A number of significant life events and stressors that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope may lead to the development of anxiety disorders.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Childhood history of abuse, trauma, or neglect
  • Chronic physical health disorder
  • Certain personality types
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Former or active military duty
  • Chronic stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders will depend upon the specific disorder an individual is struggling with, as well as a number of other personal and environmental factors. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Inability to sit still and remain calm
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Agoraphobia
  • Inability to properly meet responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Irritability
  • Exaggerated startle reflex
  • Decreased ability to perform normal activities of daily life
  • Usage of drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms

Physical symptoms:

  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Numbness or tingling in hands and/or feet
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Frequent headaches
  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Pounding heart
  • Fine muscle tremors
  • Syncope
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Notable changes in patterns of eating or sleeping
  • Excessive perspiration

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Mind often going blank
  • Irrational fears and dread
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Anticipating the worst outcomes
  • Feeling as though one is going crazy

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Helplessness
  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling worthless
  • Hopelessness and despair
  • Feeling in danger
  • Feelings of dissociation


Effects of Anxiety

If not properly treated the effects of anxiety can quickly become unmanageable and cause distress in many areas of an individual’s life. Long-term consequences of untreated anxiety disorders can depend upon individual genetic makeup, presence of co-occurring disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, and symptom severity. Long-term effects of anxiety disorders may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Decline in ability to properly function at work or school
  • Strained familial relationships
  • Increasing symptom severity
  • Depression
  • Loneliness and self-loathing
  • Increasing physical health problems
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders of Anxiety

It is not uncommon for an anxiety disorder to occur alongside another type of mental health disorder. The most common co-occurring, comorbid disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Borderline personality disorder

With my previous treatment options, my anxiety was not getting any better and was starting to severely affect my personal life. That's when I got help at Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry because it is in the best in the area. Thanks to the knowledgeable and supportive staff at OHP, I rarely have to worry about my anxiety now!

– Sarah T.