It’s normal to feel stressed or nervous from time to time. If you constantly feel overwhelmed by fear and worry or if distress prevents you from performing day-to-day functions, you might have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States. They are highly treatable.


Anxiety has a number of common symptoms. More specific forms of anxiety have more specific symptoms including. In addition, the symptoms are not caused by medical concerns or substance use.

Symptoms may include:

  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Sleep problems
  • Not being able to stay calm and still
  • Cold, sweaty, numb, or tingling hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Tense muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Worried thoughts

Some specific anxiety disorders include:

Symptoms may include:

  • Consistent, excessive, or unreasonable worry
  • Physical distress

Symptoms may include:

  • Sudden and unexpected onset of intense fear causing physical and psychological distress
  • Persistent worry about distress returning and/or avoidance related to the distress

Symptoms may include:

  • Intense, unreasonable fear of a specific object or situation

Symptoms may include:

  • Overwhelming discomfort, self-consciousness, or out of proportion fear of embarrassment in social situations
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Intense fear during social situations


Anxiety is generally treated with medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of the two. Some people with anxiety can also find self-help exercises, mindfulness meditation and/or support groups helpful.

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Treatment plans are determined by your healthcare provider on a case-by-case basis. It may take some trial and error to find the best treatment for you. Anti-anxiety medications take a few weeks to take effect.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you notice any of the symptoms above or realize your anxiety is interfering with your ability to live your life normally; ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to more than one, you may want to seek medical attention.

  • Do I find it hard to relax and have fun?
  • Am I easily irritated?
  • Do I find it hard to sleep at night?
  • Do I feel overburdened by responsibility?
  • Do I experience an upset stomach or indigestion?
  • Am I anxious all the time?
  • Do I feel like crying for no reason at all?
  • Have I lost interest in relationships or sex?
  • Do I have an increased desire to smoke, drink, or use drugs?
  • Am I unable to concentrate in school or perform my job adequately?

Many people do not realize they have an anxiety disorder, so if a close friend or family member observes these symptoms in you, it’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider.

Causes & Prevention

The exact cause of anxiety is unknown. Experts believe there are many possible contributing factors including:

  • Brain development
  • Genetics
  • Environmental stressors such as trauma or negative experiences

People with anxiety disorders can learn to manage their symptoms by:

  • Practicing healthy habits such as proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep
  • Developing stress management skills and coping strategies
  • Cutting down on caffeine, other stimulants, or drugs and alcohol
  • Avoiding medications that can increase anxiety
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