Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of anxiety. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and panic disorder are among the different types of anxiety disorders that a person can battle. Cornerstone to these conditions are ongoing and debilitating feelings of fear, worry, and/or apprehension. In many cases, the symptoms of these conditions are primarily psychological, though signs that suggest a person is suffering from this type of mental illness can display as physical symptoms.

With the ability to hinder functioning in a myriad of settings, anxiety can prevent a person from being able to execute even the most mundane tasks. The overwhelming feelings experienced by sufferers of anxiety can also lead to a number of unfavorable consequences if proper care is not implemented. What is crucial to know, however, is that anxiety disorders are very treatable conditions. Through the use of new and effective coping skills and confronting fears in therapy with a qualified mental health professional, in addition to other appropriate therapeutic interventions, those that grapple with anxiety can learn how to live life free from the constraints of anxiety.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

There can be many reasons why a person develops an anxiety disorder or disorders. The following risk factors and genetic, physical, and environmental causes are those that are widely accepted among professionals in the field of mental health:

Genetic: It is quite common for members of the same family to struggle with symptoms synonymous with anxiety. By examining the prevalence of such conditions among people who share similar genes, researchers have found that anxiety, as with other mental illnesses, does have a genetic influence.

Physical: Researchers have found that those who battle anxiety disorders often have imbalanced chemicals within their brains. The primary function of these chemicals is to regulate emotions and responses to stressful situations. When these chemicals are not balanced, an individual may have a great deal of difficulty managing his or her anxiety and respond to turmoil, especially when it is unexpected, in a maladaptive manner.

Environmental: Anxiety symptoms can be triggered by a number of environmental influences or circumstances. For example, young people may experience anxiety in school settings if they feel as though there is a great deal of pressure to perform well academically. Adults may feel high levels of anxiety if they work in stressful work environments or reside in chaotic homes. These scenarios can be especially true if a person lacks the necessary and appropriate skills for coping with environmental stressors.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of anxiety or other mental conditions
  • Inadequate support system
  • Inept coping skills
  • Low socioeconomic status  
  • Exposure to chronic stress or violence
  • Personal history of traumatic experiences

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

Since there are several types of anxiety disorders, the signs and symptoms that could be present if a person suffering from anxiety-related symptoms could vary. If you feel that you or a loved one is struggling with ongoing feelings of worry, apprehension, or fear, it is imperative that mental health treatment is sought. The following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms are those that should be reported to a mental health professional in the event an evaluation for psychiatric care is needed:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoiding certain people, places, or situations
  • Procrastination
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Labored breathing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizzy feeling
  • Frequent urination as a result of ongoing nervousness
  • High blood pressure
  • Tension in muscles
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Disturbed sleep

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Ritualistic thinking
  • Fleeting ideas
  • Memory impairment
  • Compulsions
  • Poor concentration
  • Racing thoughts
  • Cyclical thinking
  • Inability to make decisions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling detached from surroundings
  • Intense guilty feelings
  • Pervasive feelings of nervousness
  • Unpredictable mood
  • Derealization


Effects of anxiety

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be extremely distressing for sufferers. Without care for this type of mental illness, it is likely that an individual will experience adversity in several areas of his or her life. The following effects have a high probability of occurring if a person allows symptoms of anxiety to remain without therapeutic intervention:

  • Loss of employment
  • Substance use, abuse, addiction, or dependence
  • Presence of self-harming behaviors
  • Decline in quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships
  • Divorce
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to maintain work performance
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder can also display symptoms of another mental health disorder at the same time. Because of this, it is possible for a person to be diagnosed with an additional mental illness. The listed disorders are those that are commonly diagnosed and treated at the same time as an anxiety disorder:

  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

My severe depression had taken over my life. I’m so thankful for San Juan Capestrano Hospital for giving me the strength to start living my life again to the fullest.

– Luis S.