Anxiety Signs and Symptoms

Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with anxiety?  If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is anxiety that is much more distressing than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. GAD is characterized by excessive, extreme, and unrealistic worries, tension, or dread about everyday situations. These feelings often occur without a known stimulus and are out of proportion to the actual danger. People suffering from GAD may find that their feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities. These individuals suffer from an inability to control their worry to keep their anxious thoughts from interfering with their ability to function on a day to day basis and should seek treatment for their Generalized anxiety disorder.

While individuals with GAD may realize that their anxiety is unwarranted, they are unable to shake their concerns. These individuals tend to have an inability to relax and often have trouble falling or staying asleep. Additionally, these worries are accompanied by physical symptoms such as trembling, muscle tension, headaches, irritability, hot flashes, and feeling light headed. When anxiety is mild individuals with GAD are able to function socially and hold down a job, however at points when the anxiety is severe, it can prevent them from carrying out the simplest activity.


Anxiety statistics

It is estimated that generalized anxiety disorder affects about 6.8 million American adults, with twice as many women suffering from it as men. This disorder tends to develop gradually and can begin at any point in life, but it usually develops between childhood and middle age.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

The exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder is not completely understood. It is believed that the disorder  exists as the result of a number of different factors working together. Some of these factors include:

Genetic: Individuals who have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, who suffers from GAD, are more likely to suffer from the symptoms of anxiety themselves. Similarly, genetic influences play a significant role in the development of a person’s temperament, and this temperament can contribute to the way in which a person handles stress, which may ultimately affect whether or not that stress will result in in the development of anxiety.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies conducted on people known to have GAD show the presence of subtle differences in certain areas of the brain, most prominently in the hippocampus and the amygdala. Abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are also believed to play a role in the development of GAD.

Environmental: There are many environmental factors that can contribute to a person developing generalized anxiety disorder. Being surrounded by high levels of stress can lead to an individual experiencing symptoms of anxiety. In addition, people who spend a significant amount of time in environments in which they have no control, such as in a chaotic home life where familial discord is excessive, are at a higher risk of developing anxiety symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female (women are believed to be twice as likely as men are to be diagnosed with GAD)
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic physical health problems
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

The signs and symptoms of GAD will be different in each person depending on individual characteristics. The following are examples of symptoms that may be present in a person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inability to relax
  • Putting things off due to feeling overwhelmed
  • Avoiding situations that make them anxious
  • Easily startled
  • Unable to relax
  • Trouble sleeping

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle tightness or body aches
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling edgy, restless, or jumpy
  • Nausea or stomach problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Expecting the worst
  • Mind going blank
  • Trouble making decisions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Constant worries running through their head
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling powerless
  • Depression


Effects of anxiety

Having an anxiety disorder can do much more than make you worry. When people suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and do not receive treatment to ease their symptoms, there is the potential that they will suffer from a variety of long-term negative effects. Some of these effects may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Strained relationships
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Increased physical health problems
  • Overall poor quality of life
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

It is common for generalized anxiety disorder itself to occur with another mental health disorder. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Other anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, etc.)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders

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