We all face stress from time to time due to major changes that may occur in our lives and which exert intense psychological pressure on us. A move, a financial hardship or a change in work environment are just a few circumstances that can trigger feelings of stress.
However, when the symptoms we experience are more serious than the situation that caused them and when they start to disrupt our daily lives, this is probably an anxiety disorder and not just temporary anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are accompanied by significant discomfort and disruption of personal, professional and social life. However, with the right help it is possible to keep them under control. The correct diagnosis of the anxiety disorder is the first and most basic step for its effective treatment.
Below are ten common anxiety symptoms and signs.
1. Excessive worry
It is natural to worry when a loved one is dealing with an illness or when we are faced with a major financial hardship. However, in the case of an anxiety disorder, the worries are disproportionate to the causes that cause them, and many times they appear even in simple everyday situations that do not burden the average person.
To be considered a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), intense worry must occur most days of the week for at least six months and the person to have difficulty managing it. Also, the worry that characterizes GAD often leads to an inability to concentrate and complete daily tasks.
2. Constant alertness
Stress results in over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Physical manifestations of this effect are rapid heartbeats, intense sweating (mainly on the palms), trembling of the hands and dry mouth. All of this happens because the brain goes on alert and prepares the body to respond to an upcoming threat. This vigilance is especially useful in real situations of danger, but it is useless and even harmful when it becomes part of the daily routine.
Incessant nervous movement is an anxiety symptom, especially in children and adolescents. People who experience it describe it as a feeling of being constantly alert or feeling like they can’t stay in the same position for long.
A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) involving 128 children with anxiety disorder indicated that in 74% hyperactivity was one of the main symptoms of the disorder.
Another possible anxiety symptom is feeling tired even after short or mildly intense activities. It is even considered paradoxical, as anxiety is usually identified with hyperactivity and nervousness. In some cases, fatigue occurs after an anxiety attack, while other times it is chronic.
5. Difficulty concentrating
A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) of 157 children with anxiety disorder indicated that more than two out of three experienced difficulty concentrating. Another study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, this time in adults with an anxiety disorder, found that almost 90% had difficulty concentrating. In fact, according to the findings of the study, the more severe the disorder, the greater the difficulty in concentrating.
Stress can affect the functioning of working (active) memory, the memory responsible for short-term memorization. This probably explains the drop in performance observed during periods of intense stress.
Most people with an anxiety disorder are also highly irritable. A recent study of 6,000 adults, published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, found that over 90% of people with GAD experience irritability during periods of intense stress.
7. Difficulty sleeping
Sleep disorders are closely related to anxiety disorders. Interrupted sleep during the night and insomnia are the two most common problems experienced by people with anxiety.
In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, sleep disorders in childhood can “predict” the manifestation of anxiety in later life. Of the 1,000 children monitored in the study, those with insomnia were 60% more likely to develop an anxiety disorder by the age of 26.
8. Panic attacks
Panic disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder characterized by the well-known panic attacks. A panic attack is characterized by an overwhelming feeling of fear, and is accompanied by a variety of physical manifestations such as rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, nausea, etc.
An estimated 22% of Americans will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives, yet only 3% of those experience panic attacks often enough to meet the criteria for panic disorder.
9. Social isolation
People with anxiety disorders tend to avoid social events, worry about being criticized by others, fear of embarrassing themselves in front of others, and avoid crowds because of their anxiety. This type of social anxiety, as it is called, is estimated to occur in about 12% of US adults.
Extreme fear of people, things or situations (e.g., spiders, small spaces) is called a phobia and is a typical symptom of anxiety disorder. Phobias usually appear at a young age (childhood, adolescence) and are so intense that they prevent the person from functioning normally in their daily life.