What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Published 03/27/2021

Updated 03/28/2021

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.

What Is Anxiety?

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.

Symptoms of Anxiety

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.

Physical symptoms

  • Trembling hands

  • Heart palpitations

  • Shortened breath

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • A reduced appetite

  • Tiredness

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Feeling knots in your stomach, or a pressing need to use the toilet

Emotional symptoms

  • Heightened feelings of worry

  • Hypervigilance towards the perceived threat

  • Feelings of dread

  • Vocalised worries

  • Distracting thoughts

Anxiety may also present itself as an extreme fear of an object, situation, place or living thing, with different people having their respective phobias.

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Anxiety Disorders

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:

  • Trauma

  • Medication

  • Panic disorders

  • Substance abuse

  • A harrowing childhood experience with the anxiety source

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Social anxiety disorder

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.

Panic disorder

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.

Separation anxiety disorder

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.

Generalized anxiety disorder

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-induced anxiety

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.

Anxiety disorder caused by a medical condition

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.

Diagnosis of Anxiety

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.

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In Closing

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.

10 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

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.

She received her undergraduate degree in nursing from the University of Delaware and her master's degree from Thomas Jefferson University. You can find Katelyn on Doximity for more information.

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