Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety

Oasis Behavioral Health Hospital helps individuals in Chandler, AZ diagnose and treat their mental health & addiction disorders.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

Anxiety disorders are known to be the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the United States. Anxiety itself is something that everyone experiences at various points throughout their lifetime. It can be seen as an accepted reaction to the presence of stress in a person’s life. However, when anxiety levels become so high that they affect a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, a disorder exists and treatment is available.

While anxiety is usually something that people think of adults as having, it also greatly impacts children and adolescents as well.

The most common forms of anxiety that present themselves in both children and adults include:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when a person worries excessively about things that he or she recognizes as being things that do not necessarily need to be worried about. For these people, days are filled with ongoing, repetitive thoughts that something negative is going to happen, despite having no logical reason for maintaining such fears. These people struggle to simply get through the day as they attempt to gain control over this ever increasing sense of anxiety. People with GAD experience their anxiety in such an intense way that it begins to affect their ability to function appropriately on a day-to-day basis.

Panic disorder exists when a person experiences short, periodic bursts of extreme panic that occur suddenly and sometimes without any blatant provocation. These attacks tend to reach their peak within a few minutes before very gradually passing. While these panic attacks can present differently in different individuals, they are usually characterized by a sudden shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, tightening of airways (feeling as though one is choking), trembling, and hot or cold flashes. Many people who have suffered from one or more panic attacks have described feeling as though they were dying when the attack hit because they could not identify any other reason for such intense physical reactions to suddenly occur. People who suffer from panic disorder may also experience dysfunctional changes in their behavior and thinking patterns, most commonly as a direct result of their panic attacks.

Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) can have an immense impact on the lives of the individuals suffering from them as they struggle with extreme obsessions, extreme compulsions, or both. Obsessions include persistent and recurrent thoughts, images, or urges that a person does not want but cannot get rid of. Compulsions are repetitive mental acts or behaviors that people feel compelled to perform despite not wanting to. These people tend to feel as though they have lost control over how they think and how they behave in regards to certain aspects of their lives.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs as the result of a person experiencing a traumatic event and then continuing to suffer from high levels of fear and anxiety related to the trauma long after the event actually occurred. People suffering from PTSD may experience recurring thoughts, memories, or dreams about the event that exist so vividly in their minds that they end up feeling as though they are going through the traumatic event all over again.


Anxiety statistics

Studies have shown that anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States. Studies have also shown that an estimated one in every eight children suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Furthermore, the National Institute of Mental Health states that the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders affecting 13-18 year olds is around 25%.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

There can be a variety of different causes that lead to the development of anxiety disorders, but it is most commonly agreed upon by professionals in the field that it is a combination of varying factors that work together that causes anxiety disorders to develop. Examples of these different factors can include:

Genetic: It is believed that there is a genetic component in the development of anxiety disorders because they tend to run in families. Genetics also play a role in the development of temperament, which affects how people handle stress and therefore possibly effecting whether or not they develop anxiety as a result of their stress.

Physical: Chemical imbalances in the brain have been linked to the development of anxiety disorders. When neurotransmitters are imbalanced, they are not able to send the appropriate amount of serotonin to the areas of the brain that manage one’s feelings of well-being, resulting in the development of anxiety.

Environmental: The environment in which a person spends the majority of his or her time can affect whether or not that person will experience the onset of an anxiety disorder. When people are constantly surrounded by high levels of stress or live in a tense home environment, they are more likely to suffer from anxiety as a result of their negative or stressful surroundings.

Risk factors:

  • Chronic stress
  • Poor living environments
  • Family history of anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • Exposure to violence
  • Experiencing trauma
  • History of abuse or neglect
  • Being female (women are said to be twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

While some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders will be the same in both children and adults, there are some that may present differently. The symptoms will also vary from person to person depending on the specific type of anxiety that the person is suffering from. The following are some examples of different signs that may be present in a child or adult who is suffering from an anxiety disorder:

Behavioral symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • School refusal
  • Restlessness
  • Temper tantrums
  • Avoidance of certain people, places, or situations

Behavioral symptoms in adults:

  • Inability to perform appropriately at work
  • Angry outbursts
  • Avoidance of certain people, places, or situations

Physical symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Frequent urination
  • Headaches
  • Chronic stomachaches

Physical symptoms in adults:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances / becoming easily fatigued
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy or unsteady
  • Accelerated heart rate

Cognitive symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Repeated, vivid nightmares
  • Repetitive thinking
  • Irritability
  • Impatience

Cognitive symptoms in adults:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased irritability
  • Developing ritualistic behaviors
  • Developing intense obsessions
  • Lack of patience

Psychosocial symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of loneliness

Psychosocial symptoms in adults:

  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling constantly under pressure
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Feelings of guilt


Effects of anxiety

When individuals do not receive treatment for their anxiety disorders, they can ultimately suffer from a variety of long-lasting negative effects. These effects may include:

  • Poor occupational or scholastic performance
  • Social isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Strained relationships
  • Depression
  • Increased severity of symptoms
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors


Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

People who suffer from anxiety disorders often suffer from other forms of mental disorders as well. The most common disorders that can occur alongside anxiety disorders include:

  • Other types of anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse disorders
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