Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Anxiety is a normal human experience. Every day, we're given fresh reasons to be worried about an upcoming test, that expensive sound your car won't stop making, whether or not it might rain, how likely that promotion might be, etc.
In such moments, it isn't uncommon to experience heart palpitations, a preoccupation with your thoughts, hand trembling, feelings of dread, etc. These are healthy, expected responses to scenarios that we are worried about at a given moment.
However, people worry about different things in distinct ways, and your routine anxiety may be presented in a different form from others.
Likewise, anxiety may extend from a momentary feeling of dread and worry, to a constant and unrelenting feeling of fear. This is most likely an anxiety disorder, another common condition that may affect around 31.1 percent of adults in their lifetimes.
We'll be looking at the different ways anxiety may be presented, and the various disorders that may be formed when some of these symptoms are constantly experienced.
We'll also examine the ways anxiety is diagnosed, plus treatment methods to help with managing this condition.
Anxiety is your body playing its part to make sure you're ready for a situation that warrants fear or some form of apprehension.
It's a mix of cognitive, physiological, and behavioral responses to situations as they are perceived, whether or not they have actually occurred.
Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric disorders, but because most people simply take it in stride, dismissing any need for treatment — coupled with the fact that doctors can make wrong diagnoses, it's hard to give an estimate of how many people are affected by anxiety.
If you suspect that you have anxiety, there are a few tell-tale emotional and physical symptoms you can look out for.
Although most people have distinct reactions to anxiety, if you're feeling anxious about a situation, you may exhibit one or more of these physical and emotional symptoms in response.
A reduced appetite
Feeling knots in your stomach, or a pressing need to use the toilet
Heightened feelings of worry
Hypervigilance towards the perceived threat
Feelings of dread
Anxiety may also present itself as an extreme fear of an object, situation, place or living thing, with different people having their respective phobias.
When you feel persistent and unrelenting worry over an object, thing or situation, there's a chance you're suffering from an anxiety disorder.
These disorders may be caused by abnormalities with norepinephrine — a neurotransmitter responsible for increasing heart rate and the amount of blood pumped by the heart.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder may also be traced to an intense response to anxiety by the amygdala — a part of the brain responsible for processing fear.
In addition, the risk of developing an anxiety disorder is increased where a history of the condition runs in the family. This is especially true where heredity is combined with the following:
A harrowing childhood experience with the anxiety source
This condition is characterized by an extreme fear of social situations. This is one of the most common forms of anxiety disorders, with around 15 million people in the US alone feeling crippling fear at having to speak in public, meet new people, date, take a call in public, make a presentation at the office, etc.
This condition is rooted in a fear of embarrassment or criticism when placed in a social or public setting.
For some people with this condition, their anxiety may extend to all social situations, while others experience anxiety in certain public interactions.
If you suffer from this condition, it may sometimes feel like living in a constant panic loop.
A panic disorder involves unexpected and repeated attacks of fear that last a few minutes or more. People with this condition may then find themselves living in constant fear that a panic attack is imminent.
Regularly experiencing panic attacks may also cause a change in behaviour, as this may lead to the avoidance of activities and public situations to prevent an attack from happening.
This is an excessive feeling of anxiety over parting with a figure you're attached to. It may also stem from a fear that this figure may pass away, or face some form of harm.
This condition can cause excessive worry, sleep issues, and extreme distress.
Although typically observed in children, adults may also suffer from separation anxiety disorder.
If you're agoraphobic, you're prone to feeling excessive fear at the thought of leaving your home for open or crowded places. This means using public transportation, going to the movies, visiting the grocery store can be incredibly difficult for you.
Agoraphobia stems from a fear of being unable to escape a location in the event of a panic attack or anxiety attack. It may also be caused by a fear of exhibiting panic symptoms in front of people.
Experiencing occasional anxiety over work, health, marital issues etc is normal and understandable. However, where this worry becomes a persistent, everyday occurrence, especially with no real cause for concern, it may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder.
People with generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively and constantly over a number of everyday occurrences or distinct scenarios like experiencing a natural disaster despite having no predictions for such an occurrence.
This condition can make it difficult to control the feelings of worry, leading to difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, restlessness, and constantly being on edge — all of which can affect day-to-day life.
Substance use disorders and anxiety disorders are commonly linked conditions. While anxiety may result from intoxication or withdrawal from substance use, anxiety disorders may be a risk factor for the development of substance use disorder.
In some instances, a persistent feeling of worry may be a sign of a medical condition.
People living with conditions like hypothyroidism, congestive heart failure, asthma and pneumonia may find that they have frequent episodes of anxiety while their condition persists.
The first step in identifying a case of anxiety is to rule out the chance of other medical disorders through examinations and a history check.
Where no medical condition has been established, but anxiety symptoms are unusual, physical examination of the patient may be carried out to determine if an anxiety disorder is responsible for the symptoms experienced.
Anxiety is a normal emotion we feel every once in a while as we navigate through life. However, where you are constantly riddled by worry and fear over real or imagined scenarios, this could indicate an anxiety disorder which can affect daily activities.
Anxiety disorders are presented in different ways — generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, specific phobias, agoraphobia, etc.
If you frequently experience heart palpitations, sweating, constant over over a scenario that may or may not have occurred, and other symptoms of anxiety, getting a proper diagnosis and care from a trusted mental health professional can help in managing the condition.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.