Many experience anxiety at some point  or another in their lives. In fact, anxiety is a very natural response to stressful life events like moving house, changing jobs or even having financial difficulties.

However, when anxiety symptoms get bigger than what triggered them and start interfering with your life, they could be signs of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can be debilitating, but they can be managed and contained with proper help from  medical professionals. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step.

Here are 11 common symptoms of an anxiety disorder, as well as how to reduce anxiety naturally and when its time to seek professional help.

1. Excessive Worrying         
Is one of the most common symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

The worrying associated with anxiety disorders is disproportionate to the events that trigger it and typically occurs in response to normal, everyday situations. To be considered a sign of generalized anxiety disorder, the worrying must have been happening on most days for at least 6 months and be difficult to control. It must be severe and intrusive, making it difficult to concentrate and accomplish simple day to day tasks.

People under 65 are most at risk of generalized anxiety disorder, especially those single, and have a lower socioeconomic status and have many life stressors.   

SUMMARY

Excessive worrying about everyday matters is a trait of generalized anxiety disorder, especially if severe enough to interfere with daily life and persists almost daily for at least six months.

2. Feeling Agitated

When one is feeling anxious, part of their sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. This kicks off a chain of effects throughout the body, such as a racing pulse, sweaty palms, shaky hands and a dry mouth.

These symptoms occur because the brain believes it has sensed danger, and is preparing your body to react to it. Your body shunts blood away from your digestive system and toward your muscles in case you have to run or fight. It also increases your heart rate and heightens your senses.

While these effects would be helpful if there was an actual threat, they can be debilitating if the danger is all in your head.

Some researchers even suggest those with anxiety disorders are not able to reduce arousal as quickly as those who don’t have an anxiety disorder, which means they can feel the effects of anxiety for longer periods of time.

SUMMARY

A rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking and a dry mouth are all common symptoms of anxiety. Those with anxiety disorders can experience this type of arousal for extended periods of time.

3. Restlessness

Restlessness is another common symptom of anxiety, especially in children and teens. When someone is experiencing restlessness, they often describe it as feeling “on edge” or having an “uncomfortable urge to move.”

A study of 128 children diagnosed with anxiety disorders found that 74% of them stated restlessness as one of their main anxiety symptoms.

While restlessness doesn’t occur in everyone who has anxiety, it’s a red flags doctors look for when making a diagnosis.

If you experience restlessness on most days for over six months, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

SUMMARY

Restlessness alone isn’t enough to diagnose an anxiety disorder, but it can be a symptom, especially if it occurs frequently.

Becoming easily fatigued is another potential symptom of generalized anxiety disorder.

This symptom can be surprising to some, as anxiety is commonly associated with hyperactivity or arousal. For some, fatigue can follow an anxiety attack, while for others, the fatigue can be chronic.

It’s still unclear whether this fatigue is due to other common symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia or muscle tension, or whether it’s related to the hormonal effects of chronic anxiety.

However, it’s important to note that fatigue can also be a sign of depression or other medical conditions, so fatigue alone is not enough to diagnose an anxiety disorder.

SUMMARY

Fatigue can be a sign of an anxiety disorder if it is accompanied by excessive worrying. However, it can also indicate other medical disorders.

 
5. Difficulty Concentrating

Many of those with anxiety say they have difficulty concentrating.

One study of 157 children and teens with generalized anxiety disorder found over two-thirds had difficulty concentrating.

Another study of 175 adults with the same disorder found nearly 90% of them reported having difficulty concentrating. The worse their anxiety, the more trouble they had.

Some studies show anxiety can interrupt the working memory (memory for holding short-term information). This might help explain the dramatic decrease in performance people often experience during these periods of high anxiety.

However, trouble concentrating can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, like an attention deficit disorder or depression, so its not enough evidence to diagnose an anxiety disorder.

SUMMARY

Difficulty concentrating can be one sign of an anxiety disorder, and its a reported symptom in most that are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

Most of those with anxiety disorders also experience excessive irritability.

According to a recent study of over 6,000 adults, over 90% of those with generalized anxiety disorder reported feeling very irritable during periods when their anxiety disorder was at its worst.

Compared to self-reported worriers, young and middle-aged adults with generalized anxiety disorder reported  twice as much irritability in their day-to-day lives.

Given that anxiety can be associated with high arousal and excessive worrying, its not surprising that irritability is a common symptom.

SUMMARY

Most of those with generalized anxiety disorder report feeling highly irritable, especially when their anxiety peaked.

7. Tense Muscles

Having tense muscles on most days is another frequent symptom of anxiety. While tense muscles may be common, it isn’t fully understood why they’re associated with anxiety.

It’s possible that muscle tenseness itself increases feelings of anxiety, but it’s also possible that anxiety leads to increased muscle tenseness, or that there is a third factor causes both.

Interestingly, treating muscle tension with muscle relaxation therapy has shown to reduce worry in those with generalized anxiety disorder. Some studies show it to be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy.

SUMMARY

Muscle tension is no doubt linked to anxiety, but the direction of the relationship is not yet well understood. Treating muscle tension has shown to help reduce symptoms of worry.

8. Trouble Falling or Staying Asleep

Sleep disturbances are strongly associated with anxiety disorders. Waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling asleep are the most commonly reported problems.

Research suggests that having insomnia during childhood may even be linked to developing anxiety later on in life.

A study of 1,000 children over a 20 year period found that having insomnia as a child was linked to a 60% increased possibility of developing an anxiety disorder by the age of 26.

While insomnia and anxiety are strongly linked, it is still unclear as to whether insomnia contributes to anxiety, or if anxiety contributes to insomnia, or both.

What is now known is that when the underlying anxiety disorder is treated, insomnia often improves too.

SUMMARY

Sleeping issues are very common in those with anxiety. Treating the anxiety can usually help improve the quality of their sleep as well.

9. Panic Attacks

 Panic disorder is associated with recurring panic attacks. Which produce an intense, overwhelming sensation of fear that can be debilitating.

This extreme fear is accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea and fear of losing control. Panic attacks can happen in isolation, but if they occur frequently and unexpectedly, it can be a sign of panic disorder.

22% of adults will experience a panic attack at some point in their lives, but only about 3% have them frequently enough to meet the criteria for panic disorder.

SUMMARY

Panic attacks produce extremely intense feelings of fear, accompanied by unpleasant physical symptoms. Recurring panic attacks may be a sign of panic disorder.

 
10. Avoiding Social Situations

You may be showing signs of social anxiety disorder if you find yourself:

  • Feeling anxious or fearful about upcoming social situations
  • Worrying that you may be judged or scrutinized by others
  • Fear being embarrassed or humiliated in front of others
  • Avoiding certain social events because of these fears

Social anxiety disorder is actually very common, affecting 12% of adults at some point in their lives.

Social anxiety tends to develop early in life. In fact, about 50% of those who have it are diagnosed by the age of 11, while 80% are diagnosed by age 20.

Those with social anxiety may appear extremely shy and quiet in groups or when meeting new people. While they may not appear at all distressed on the outside, inside they feel extreme fear and anxiety.

This aloofness can sometimes make people with social anxiety appear snobby or standoffish, but the disorder is associated with low self-esteem, high self-criticism and depression.

SUMMARY

Fear and avoidance of social situations may be a sign of social anxiety disorder, one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders.

11. Irrational Fears

Extreme fears of specific things, such as spiders, enclosed spaces or heights, could be a sign of a phobia.

A phobia is defined as extreme anxiety or fear of a specific object or situation. The feeling is so severe that it can interfere with the ability to function normally.

Common phobias include:

  • Animal phobias: Fear of specific animals or insects
  • Natural environment phobias: Fear of natural events like hurricanes or floods
  • Blood-injection-injury phobias: Fear of injections, needles or injuries
  • Situational phobias: Fear of certain situations like an airplane or elevator ride

Agoraphobia is another phobia that involves fear of at least 2 of the following:

  • Using public transportation
  • Being in open spaces
  • Being in confined spaces
  • Standing in a lined queue or being in a crowd
  • Being outside of the home alone

Phobias affect 12.5% of us at some point in our lives. They tend to develop in childhood or in the teens and are more common in women than men.

SUMMARY

Irrational fears interrupting daily functioning may be a sign of a specific phobia. Although there are many types of phobias, they all involve avoidance behavior and feelings of extreme fear.

Natural Ways to Reduce Anxiety

There are many natural ways to reduce anxiety and help you feel better, including:

  • Healthy diet: Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, high-quality meats, fish, nuts and whole grains can lower the risk of developing anxiety disorders, but diet alone is not enough to treat them.
  • Consuming probiotics and fermented foods: Taking probiotics and eating fermented foods have been associated with improved mental health.
  • Limiting caffeine: Excessive caffeine intake may increase feelings of anxiety in some, especially those with anxiety disorders.
  • Abstaining from alcohol: Anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse are strongly linked, so it will help to stay away from alcoholic beverages.
  • Quitting smoking: Smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Quitting is associated with improved mental health.
  • Exercising often: Regular exercise helps lower risk of developing an anxiety disorder, but its unclear as to whether it helps those already diagnosed. 
  • Trying meditation: One type of meditation-based therapy called mindfulness-based stress reduction has shown to significantly reduce symptoms in those with anxiety disorders.
  • Practicing yoga: Regular yoga has been shown to reduce the symptoms in people diagnosed with anxiety disorders, although more research is needed.

SUMMARY

Maintaining a nutrient-dense diet, quitting psychoactive substances and implementing stress-management techniques can all help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

When to Seek Professional Help

Anxiety can be debilitating, so it’s important to seek professional help if your symptoms are severe.

If you feel anxious for most days and experience one or more of the symptoms listed above for at least 6 months, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Regardless of how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms, if you ever feel your emotions are interfering with your life, you should seek professional help.

Licensed psychologists and psychiatrists are trained to treat anxiety disorders through a variety of means.

This often includes cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety medications or some of the natural therapies listed above.

Working with a professional can help you manage your anxiety and reduce your symptoms as quickly and safely as possible.

SUMMARY

If you are experiencing chronic symptoms of anxiety that are interfering with your life, it is important to seek professional help.

The Bottom Line

Anxiety disorders are characterized by a variety of symptoms. One of the most common is excessive and intrusive worrying that disrupts ones daily functioning. Other signs include agitation, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, tense muscles and difficulty sleeping.

Recurring panic attacks may indicate panic disorder, fearing and avoiding social situations could indicate social anxiety disorder and extreme phobias could be a sign of specific phobia disorders.

Regardless of which kind of anxiety you may have, there are many natural solutions you can use to help relieve it working with a licensed healthcare professional.