Symptoms A-Z

Anxiety Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your anxiety symptoms with Buoy, including 9 causes and common questions concerning your anxiety.

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Anxiety Symptoms

Your heart races before a big presentation; your palms sweat as you wait for a date; you are convinced your plane will crash and can't stop worrying about it — despite all logic. At some time or another, everyone experiences anxiety symptoms. As with many symptoms, anxiety can be mild or even healthy. Of course, anxiety can also cause a full-blown panic attack or require serious psychiatric care.

Common characteristics of anxiety

Anxiety can be described by the following.

Panic attacks explained

A panic attack is the most extreme presentation of anxiety symptoms. A panic attack may be a one-time occurrence or something you experience chronically.

Panic attacks may occur in situations unique and bothersome to you, such as crossing a bridge, getting on an elevator with a lot of people, or giving a presentation at work.

A true panic attack is distinguished from anxiety because it also involves symptoms of shortness of breath, a feeling like the room is spinning, and a hard pounding of the heart [1].

How serious is anxiety?

Many of the conditions that cause anxiety stem from the brain and subconscious [2]. Anxiety symptoms are often a totally normal response to life's twists and turns. Anxiety can be problematic in certain situations, however, and may cause issues in your professional or social life. You also don't want to experience a panic attack while driving, for example.

If your symptoms of anxiety worsen, or you experience a panic attack, you should seek care. Your care provider can help you better understand your symptoms and help you regain control over thoughts or experiences that are causing your anxiety.

Anxiety Causes

There are many causes of anxiety; however, they can often be understood as medical or psychiatric.

Medical anxiety causes

Causes of anxiety related to medical conditions may include the following.

  • Endocrine and hormones imbalance: Low insulin, elevated thyroid hormone, and elevated stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) can all cause anxiety [3].
  • Cardiopulmonary disease: Serious issues with circulation and breathing can make you feel anxious [4].
  • Pain: Being in pain is anxiety-producing.

Psychiatric and psychological anxiety causes

Causes of anxiety related to your mental health may include the following.

  • Normal stress response: It's OK to feel anxious or nervous before an important event in life.
  • Adjustment disorder: Anxiety that follows serious trauma or a stressor, such as a car accident or mugging. This type of anxiety usually this improves within a few weeks [5].

  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): Anxiety from a major, life-threatening event — combat, rape, any experience of violence or abuse — with anxiety lasting long after the event. People with PTSD often have anxiety, depression, insomnia, flashbacks, and avoidance behaviors. Counseling or treatment is wise [6].

  • Phobias: Some people have a phobia of clowns, while others fear to leave their house (claustrophobia). Other phobias include fear of snakes, birds, insects, flying on planes, riding over bridges, storms, and a wide variety of places and things [7].
  • Panic disorder: Involves recurrent, full-blown, panic attacks happening over and over.
  • Depression and schizophrenia: Both of these psychiatric illnesses can also include components of anxiety as part of the condition.

Medications

Some over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs cause symptoms of anxiety such as:

  • Caffeine
  • Stimulants
  • Asthma medications and bronchodilators
  • Sympathomimetics (nasal or oral decongestants): Sudafed is a classic
  • Alcohol or sedative withdrawal
  • Hallucinogens
  • Thyroid medications
  • Cocaine
  • ADHD drugs: Adderall, for example

9 Possible Anxiety Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced anxiety. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a chronic condition that involves repeated episodes of panic attacks, as well as worry about future attacks or consequences of attacks, or unhelpful changes in behavior to avoid the attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of sudden-onset fear, discomfort, and/or other symptoms tha...

Symptoms of menopause

Menopause is the name for the natural process by which the menstrual cycle (period) stops happening in a woman. Usually, the process is gradual (takes months or years) and occurs from the age of 45 to 55 years. Menopause is officially diagnosed once a woman stops having a period for 12 months continuously. A woman with menopause will notice a decrease in the number and regularity of her periods until they completely stop. In addition, she may notice a number of symptoms that occur as a result of decreased estrogen levels, such as hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, changes in libido, and changes in sexual function. Certain medications exist that can decrease these symptoms.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping

Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause: delay in or irregular periods

Urgency: Self-treatment

Panic or anxiety attack(s)

Panic or anxiety attacks are sudden feelings of intense fear or stress without true danger. Symptoms usually peak and then decrease within minutes. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart. A panic attack can be a very scary experience and should be taken seriously.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms:

Symptoms that always occur with panic or anxiety attack(s): anxiety or anxiety/panic attacks

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Generalized anxiety disorder (gad)

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Generalized anxiety disorder refers to ongoing feelings of worry and anxiousness that persists for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorde...

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Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache

Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a psychological condition caused by trauma, especially by any violent attack such as robbery, assault, or combat. "Acute" means that clear symptoms appear within days of the traumatic event. Most susceptible are those with a previous history o...

Premenstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that can produce emotional and physical symptoms in women in the days leading up to their menstrual cycle. Common symptoms include bloating, cramping, headaches, irritability, fatigue, and sleep and appetite changes. These symptoms...

Specific phobia disorder

There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals and blood.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: anxiety, anxiety from a specific situation, fear of heights, fear of blood or injections, fear of enclosed spaces

Symptoms that always occur with specific phobia disorder: anxiety from a specific situation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Overactive thyroid

The thyroid is a small, bow-tie shaped gland in your neck. Its main job is to produce thyroid hormone (known as T3 or T4), which serves a wide array of functions throughout the body.

When too much thyroid hormone is released, the body’s metabolism gets ramped up, causing symptoms ...

Anxiety Treatments and Relief

Not all cases of anxiety require you to see a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. However, if your anxiety symptoms are severely impacting your quality of life, you might consider seeing a licensed therapist who can help you identify and overcome your feelings of anxiety. Finding ways to reduce stress and minimize stressors in your life is a great first step [8].

Treatment of medical conditions

Anxiety symptoms due to medical conditions require the underlying illness be managed. This can include:

  • Thyroid
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Medication dose change
  • Medication change
  • Management of drug or alcohol withdrawal

Treatment of psychiatric conditions

With psychiatric disorders, appropriate assessment by a trained mental health provider is the key to reduce anxiety symptoms.

  • Reassurance
  • Stress reduction
  • Exercise
  • Psychotherapy individual or group
  • Inpatient therapy or hospitalization for severe cases
  • Medication: Benzodiazepines are often used (Valium, Ativan).

If the panic attacks become frequent, it is highly advisable to see a therapist, and if you feel you have a chronic panic disorder [9], you might want to choose one that can prescribe medication. Panic disorders can be dangerous, especially if you're driving when you have one. That's why often medication is required.

When to see a professional

You should see a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist if you're experiencing the following.

  • Other concerning symptoms: If you suspect your panic attacks are being caused by medication, you should consult the physician who prescribed it to you. If your anxiety is accompanied by physical symptoms that haven't been mentioned here, such as weight gain (thyroid and adrenal gland imbalance), angina (cardiovascular issues), feeling as if an elephant is sitting on your chest (COPD), you should also see a professional.
  • Depression: If your anxiety is causing you depression [10], great sadness, or feelings of hopelessness, see a professional.
  • Social/professional distress: If your anxiety is impacting your relationships, social sphere, work, or school performance, see a professional.
  • If you fear you might hurt yourself in any way

A licensed psychiatrist/psychologist can help you relax and identify stressors. He or she can also use behavioral therapies or prescribe medications that may alleviate some symptoms.

FAQs About Anxiety

Here are some frequently asked questions about anxiety.

How to know if you have anxiety?

It may be appropriate to seek medical evaluation if you are experiencing both mental and physical symptoms for at least 90 days out of six months. Mental symptoms can include expecting bad events, worrying, and an inability to control worries. Physical symptoms include an inability to sleep, concentrate, jitters or restlessness, irritability, excessive sweating, and an accelerated heart rate [6]. A diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is usually only possible if there is no other cause such as substance abuse, danger at work or in home, or repeated proximity to violence.

How do you know if you're having an anxiety attack?

Panic attacks are often but not always spontaneous or without a trigger or cause, have a beginning and an end, and are accompanied by intense fear that lasts usually less than an hour. If you are having a panic attack, you may feel shortness of breath, chest pain, an acceleration of heart rate, racing thoughts, or produce a profuse amount of sweat. You may also experience severe stomach upset and incontinence. It is possible to have a panic attack and not have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety attacks can be caused by substance use, including but not limited to marijuana, hallucinogenic compounds, and methamphetamines [7].

What does anxiety feel like?

Anxiety attacks can manifest differently in everyone. The most common symptoms of an anxiety attack include a sudden sense of fear that may or may not be due to a trigger, anxiety, impending doom, or loss of control as well as increased heart rate, shortness of breath and increased breathing, and tingling in the arms. Panic attacks often end gradually and rarely last longer than an hour. Most people who experience panic attacks describe feelings of fear and bodily changes (heart rate increase, stomach upset, breathing rate increase) over which they have little control.

What are the signs of a panic attack?

A panic attack will involve a trigger or intense fear of a situation followed by bodily changes of hyperarousal. These symptoms include but are not limited to stomach upset, increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, tingling, or numbness around fingertips or mouth, dizziness, and lightheadedness.

What are the risk factors for anxiety disorders?

If you are directly related to someone with a panic disorder or depression, you are at higher risk to experience panic disorders. However, your unique temperament and experiences present the biggest risk for panic disorders. If you are a naturally anxious person, respond poorly to stress, or you cannot control your moods easily you have a greater risk of having a panic disorder. Experiencing emotional or physical abuse also increases the risk of developing a panic disorder [8].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Anxiety

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your anxiety

Anxiety Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced anxiety have also experienced:

  • 6% Depressed Mood
  • 5% Fatigue
  • 3% Nausea

People who have experienced anxiety were most often matched with:

  • 50% Panic Or Anxiety Attack(S)
  • 37% Panic Disorder
  • 12% Symptoms Of Menopause

People who have experienced anxiety had symptoms persist for:

  • 54% Over a month
  • 22% Less than a day
  • 11% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Anxiety Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your anxiety

References

  1. Panic Attack Symptoms. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link
  2. Martin EI, Ressler KJ, Binder E, Nemeroff CB. The Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders: Brain Imaging, Genetics, and Psychoneuroendocrinology. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2009;32(3):549-575. NCBI Link
  3. McCann U. Anxiety and Heart Disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  4. Fred KB, David Z, Brenda C. Adjustment Disorder. Mount Sinai. Published March 26, 2018. Mount Sinai Link
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Published Feburary 2016. NIMH Link
  6. Phobias. National Library of Medicine: MedLinePlus. Published June 6, 2018. MedLinePlus Link
  7. Engel N. How to Know When You Are Having a Panic Attack. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link
  8. Anxiety Treatment. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link
  9. Chronic Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment. NIH MedlinePlus. Published 2011. MedlinePlus
  10. Depression. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.