5 signs and symptoms pointing toward anxiety disorder

Many of us are familiar with the feeling of anxiety, especially ahead of important occasions. But those are usually one-offs, like a first date or a medical procedure. When that feeling of anxiety turns chronic and happens after specific triggers, it becomes a psychiatric disorder.

The Lancet estimates that about 76.2 million people worldwide have anxiety disorders – more than before due to the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic. [1] this makes it more essential than ever that countries employ strong mental health support systems to aid people’s psychological well-being. But you can’t get treatment without first getting a diagnosis.

If you suspect you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, here are 5 signs to watch out for.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions. It’s different from simple fear or nervousness, as it actively hinders your ability to function normally. There are often triggers (conscious or otherwise) that cause these feelings of panic and dread, and you cannot control your emotional response.

You may feel anxiety prior to a job interview or a significant test. Your anxiety may even be a positive response to a hazardous situation. But when that anxiety becomes chronic – or regularly triggered by some stimulus – and interferes with your daily life, that indicates a deeper underlying condition. [2]

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Types of anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorders share common symptoms and manifestations, but emerge from different triggers. Some types of anxiety disorders include [3]:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: This is a persistent feeling of unease or dread that interferes with your daily life. You may experience anxiety for prolonged periods of time, which affects your ability to function.
  • Phobias: Phobias emerge from a specific trigger, such as social situations (social anxiety), objects, or even other people.
  • Panic disorder: If a person suffers several panic attacks over a short period of time, they are diagnosed with a panic disorder.

Signs of an anxiety disorder

There are several symptoms of an anxiety disorder, which vary depending on the type of condition a person has. But here are 5 common ones that manifest in people. [4]

#1 – Feelings of panic or unease

A person suffering from anxiety will consistently and regularly feel sudden, intense panic or unease. There is usually a trigger, whether the person is aware of the trigger or not. 

For example, a person with generalised anxiety may feel triggered by their academic classes and tests. A person with social phobia may feel panicked at the thought of attending a wedding or presenting in front of their classmates and professor.

While on-off occurrences of panic and unease are normal in humans, persistent and uncontrollable panic is a sign of a genuine psychiatric issue.

A person suffering from anxiety will consistently and regularly feel sudden, intense panic or unease

#2 – Obsessive or intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts tend to come out of nowhere, appearing unprompted in our minds. They may be related to the situation at hand, or they may be related to a previous experience that you suddenly remember. Intrusive thoughts tend to focus on violent or otherwise socially unacceptable concepts.

A person suffering from intrusive thoughts may get the sudden impulse to break a glass when they see one. That intrusive thought then triggers or adds to anxiety, since they recognise the wrongness of the concept and fear that they might act on it. [5]

#3 – Breathing and heart issues

Shortness of breath is a common sign of anxiety and may be a signal of an oncoming panic attack. A person suffering an anxiety attack may feel they are unable to breathe, as if their chest and lungs are constricted. In most cases it is harmless and will lift as soon as the anxiety passes.

Difficulty breathing leads to less oxygen in our bloodstream, which triggers an increased heartrate as your heart tries to pump more blood to your organs. This may also cause some chest pain and sweating. [6]

Shortness of breath is a common sign of anxiety, and may be a signal of an oncoming panic attack

#4 – Inability to calm down

For neurotypical persons, when they experience anxiety, they are often able to calm themselves down and mitigate the feeling. However, for those suffering an anxiety disorder, they are unable to regulate their breathing and lower their heartrate because the feeling is so intense and persistent.

Persons suffering an anxiety attack cannot simply “calm down” and feel better in a few minutes. The feeling of anxiety will persist, often even after the trigger has been removed or addressed.

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#5 – Frequent dizziness and nausea

Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeats often lead to dizziness due to the lack of oxygen in your blood. People feel dizzy for a variety of reasons – dehydration or sleep deprivation, for example – but if your dizziness is paired with a strong feeling of unease or dread, that’s often a sign of anxiety.

Meanwhile, that fear may also trigger nausea. Your brain is experiencing a high level of stress, which affects many systems in your body – including your digestive system. You may feel like vomiting or like you’ve bloated, and you may even experience a stomach ache or acid reflux. [7]

Diagnosing anxiety

If you experience a combination of these symptoms over an extended period of time, there is a high chance you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Speak to your healthcare provider and request that they refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Your general practitioner may first attempt to rule out a physiological cause, such as a virus or bacterium.

A psychiatrist or psychologist will use specialised tests and assessment tools to diagnose your disorder. They may interview you closely and examine your symptoms to determine your diagnosis. It is especially important to emphasise the detriment your symptoms have on your daily life. [8]

Managing your anxiety

There are several strategies you can take to manage and mitigate your anxiety. Some involve self-coping mechanisms such as yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques. Adjusting your diet and exercise routines may also improve your symptoms. And of course, your psychiatrist may prescribe you medication to medically address your condition. [9]

Anxiety may affect your quality of life and ability to function, but you can take steps so it does not prevent you from living your life. If you suspect you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder based on these signs and others, consult your doctor at the soonest possible time. 

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[1] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02143-7/fulltext
[2] https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders
[3] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
[4] https://uhs.umich.edu/anxietypanic#symptoms
[5] https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/unwanted-intrusive-thoughts
[6] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326831#the-connection
[7] https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/anxiety-nausea#causes
[8] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders#symptoms-and-causes
[9] https://adaa.org/tips

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.