Symptoms and causes

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

Several types of anxiety disorders exist:

  • Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they've occurred.
  • Selective mutism is a consistent failure of children to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work and social functioning.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that's excessive for the child's developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you're exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of abusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
  • Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are terms for anxiety or phobias that don't meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.

The causes of anxiety disorders aren't fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.

These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma. Children who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.
  • Stress due to an illness. Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
  • Stress buildup. A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances.
  • Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.
  • Other mental health disorders. People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
  • Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.
  • Drugs or alcohol. Drug or alcohol use or abuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.

Having an anxiety disorder does more than make you worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Problems functioning at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicide
Aug. 16, 2017
References
  1. Anxiety disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Sept. 24, 2015.
  2. Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Accessed Sept. 24, 2015.
  3. Cook, AJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 14, 2015.
  4. Anxiety disorders. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders/Overview. Accessed Oct. 1, 2015.
  5. Help with anxiety disorders. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders. Accessed Oct. 1, 2015.
  6. Reinhold JA, et al. Pharmacological treatment for generalized anxiety disorder in adults: An update. Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy. 2015;16:1669.
  7. Bandelow B, et al. Efficacy of treatments for anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis. International Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2015;30:183.
  8. Find support. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Find-Support. Accessed Oct. 1, 2015.
  9. Bazzan AJ, et al. Current evidence regarding the management of mood and anxiety disorders using complementary and alternative medicine. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2014;14:411.
  10. Natural medicines in the clinical management of anxiety. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 1, 2015.
  11. Sarris J, et al. Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, Part 2: A review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence. CNS Drugs. 2013;27:301.
  12. Bystritsky A. Complementary and alternative treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders: Herbs and medications. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 4, 2015.
  13. Bystritsky A. Pharmacotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 4, 2015.
  14. Whiteside SP (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 27, 2015.
  15. Sawchuk CN (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 6, 2015.