What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

The symptoms of anxiety disorders vary based on the specific disorder, but are generally characterized by persistent, excessive, and irrational fear or dread. For example, if you have general anxiety disorder (GAD), you may feel anxious and worry about yourself and others for no specific reason. You may have difficulty sleeping, suffer from fatigue and irritability, struggle to concentrate, and feel constantly on edge. These symptoms last for at least six months or more.

Dr. Dawn Marcus

The following are symptoms of anxiety disorders:

  • Do you frequently worry?
  • Do you have trouble feeling relaxed? When you try to relax does your mind start racing about small problems?
  • Do you have difficulty sitting still or concentrating?
  • Are you afraid to make a decision and tend to second guess your choices?
  • Do groups of people make you nervous or do you avoid social situations?
  • Do you have problems with your stomach or bowel habits?

If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, talk to your doctor. These feelings can be symptoms of an anxiety disorder. They can also be caused by other health problems, like low blood sugar, thyroid disease, medication side effects, or other medical conditions.

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Dr. Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Broadly written—the symptoms of anxiety are arousal and avoidance. When we fear something or are anxious about it—we avoid it—and that can result in problems if we avoid things that could impact our relationships, work, or quality of life. The arousal is characterized by physiological symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, difficulty breathing—these symptoms typically arise when we need to face the feared situation—so thus we avoid it. Most anxiety treatments address this by helping the person face the feared situation, giving them tools to keep the arousal symptoms in check, and to connect thoughts and behaviors.

Kathy Sowder
Psychology Specialist

Symptoms of anxiety include excessive worry and often physical signs leading to difficulty doing daily tasks. It may include trembling, muscle tension, feeling fatigued, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, cold hands, restlessness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and impaired concentration. Many times anxious people tend to think in negative or fearful ways, and to expect negative results, which can increase their anxiety and thus increase the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Feeling anxiety is normal. After all, anxiety is a survival ­mechanism that gets you through a difficult situation. If you are face to face with a man-eating bear or have to give a lecture in front of 1,000 people, feeling a little anxious can help you get through the ordeal. However, for some people, their worries are more intense, frequent, or last longer than for others in a similar situation. Feelings of anxiety can coexist with feelings of depression.

There are several anxiety disorders, and together these disorders affect more Americans than any other mental illness. General anxiety disorder refers to feelings of anxiety and worry about everyday life. There are also diabetes-specific phobias that can be problematic. For example, some people have excessive fear of high or how blood glucose or fear of injecting insulin or some other medication. Other people are obsessive about tracking their blood glucose or recording their results.

Signs of an anxiety disorder:

  • You feel restless, feel irritable, and have difficulty concentrating much of the time.
  • You tend to feel very worried or concerned about almost everything.
  • You feel tired or easily fatigued.
  • You have problems sleeping.
  • You avoid people or places.
  • You feel panicked or scared for no reason.
  • You are not able to stop thinking about something.
  • You feel like you have to do something over and over again, such as washing your hands or checking door locks.
  • Your muscles feel tense or you experience frequent headaches.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you will have at least three of these symptoms, in addition to anxiety.

  • You're restless and can't relax. You often feel keyed up or on edge.
  • You get tired easily. You get worn out by a short trip to the shops. Or you feel like sleeping all the time, even when you have just got up.
  • You can't concentrate. Your mind keeps going blank. You have trouble staying focused on what you are doing.
  • You're irritable. Everyone gets grumpy sometimes, but some people with anxiety disorder feel cranky most of the time.
  • Your muscles are tense. This can make you shaky. Your hands may tremble so much that you spill your coffee or can't write clearly. You may also get aches and pains in your muscles.
  • You sleep badly. You have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Or if you do sleep, your sleep is restless and doesn't make you feel refreshed.

Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms. These symptoms can be very frightening, and people with anxiety disorders often think they have a physical illness. Many people with anxiety have heart palpitations (your heart beats faster than normal), making them think they are having a heart attack. Other physical symptoms include: cold, clammy hands, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, and shortness of breath.

Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Anxiety is often accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms. The most common symptoms relate to the chest, such as heart palpitations (awareness of a more forceful or faster heartbeat), throbbing or stabbing pains, a feeling of tightness and inability to take in enough air, and a tendency to sigh or hyperventilate. In addition, tension in the back and neck muscles often leads to headaches, back pains, and muscle spasms. Other symptoms can include excessive sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, digestive disturbances, and the constant need to urinate or defecate.

Anxious individuals usually have a constant feeling that something bad is going to happen. They may fear that they have a chronic or dangerous illness—a belief that is reinforced by the symptoms of anxiety. Inability to relax may lead to difficulty in getting to sleep and to constant waking through the night.

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Dr. Michael J. Mufson, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

The following symptoms are characteristic of all anxiety disorders:

  • irrational feelings of fear, dread, or danger
  • tension
  • worry
  • physical symptoms such as agitation, trembling, nausea, hot or cold flashes, dizziness, shortness of breath, or frequent urination
Dr. Mona L. Schulz, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Some people just get irritable and grouchy and snappy when they’re really anxious and the anger masks the anxiety. And this can confuse the issue because if you’re not in touch with the intuition behind your anxiety, you can’t skillfully respond to the intuitive warning behind the emotion. On the other hand, some people develop what I call the “Deer in the Headlights” syndrome, and when they’re anxious or phobic, they become frozen with terror. They look passionless, unexpressive, and stiff. You know, the deer in the headlights when the danger comes bearing down on the deer, the deer just freezes.

Feeling worried and stressed does not necessarily mean that you have a clinical anxiety disorder, but chronic anxiety can often be a precursor to a more serious psychological condition. Signs of an anxiety disorder may include the following:

  • anxiety that is excessive, unreasonable or without an obvious cause
  • anxiety that interferes with daily functioning and familiar activities
  • physical sensations such as pounding heart, sweating, nausea, jumpiness, trembling and a smothering feeling

This content originally appeared on the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation website at

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.