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Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety disorder symptoms

There are numerous types of anxiety disorder. Each has slightly different effects on your mind and body. This page explores the symptoms of nine different anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders don’t affect everyone in exactly the same way. You may have an anxiety disorder but not experience every symptom listed.

If you recognise the symptoms covered, speak to your doctor. The doctor can diagnose and treat your condition, helping you to feel better.

Read on to learn what each anxiety disorder feels like.

Generalised anxiety disorder

If you experience anxiety about a wide range of situations or events, you may have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). But how does GAD affect your mind and body?

Psychological symptoms

GAD may change the way you think, feel, and behave.

If you have GAD you may feel like something bad is about to happen, even though it isn’t. Along with this sense of dread, you may feel:

  • on edge
  • restless, like you can’t sit still
  • irritable or easily annoyed
  • unable to concentrate
  • unable to achieve things that are normally easy
  • that your life’s problems are insurmountable

These feelings may cause you to avoid certain situations, people, or activities. Without treatment, having GAD can disrupt your daily life.

Physical symptoms

GAD can affect your body in a number of ways. It can make you feel:

  • tired
  • dizzy
  • tense
  • sick
  • achy
  • shaky
  • sweaty
  • short of breath

You might also have:

  • headaches
  • tummy aches
  • pins and needles

If you have GAD you may also:

  • have trouble sleeping
  • be easily startled by loud noises or sudden movements
  • need to go to the loo frequently

Social anxiety disorder

If your anxiety is triggered by social situations, you may have social anxiety. We explore how social anxiety may affect your mind and body below.

Psychological symptoms

Social anxiety may make you extremely worried and fearful about:

  • meeting new people
  • being the centre of attention
  • talking at meetings
  • people judging you
  • embarrassing yourself
  • people noticing your nervousness

These feelings may lead you to avoid social situations. Or you may push yourself to socialise but find the experience distressing.

If you have social anxiety, you may overanalyse a social situation after it has happened.

Physical symptoms

Social anxiety can affect you physically. Having social anxiety may make you:

  • flushed
  • shaky
  • sweaty
  • short of breath
  • feel sick
  • dizzy
  • light headed

These symptoms tend to be experienced when approaching a social situation. Social anxiety may also make your heart beat faster than usual.

Panic disorder

If you experience frequent panic attacks, you may have panic disorder. We explore the physical and psychological effects of panic disorder below.

Psychological symptoms

If you have panic disorder you may experience ongoing feelings of anxiety between panic attacks.

The psychological symptoms of a panic attack include feeling:

  • confused
  • a sense of dread
  • as if you might die
  • disconnected from your body

These thoughts may feel overwhelming during the panic attack. But they will pass. Panic attack symptoms are temporary.

Physical symptoms

Panic attacks can have a powerful, physical effect on your body. During a panic attack, your heart may beat faster and you may feel:

  • dizzy, sick, or faint
  • a tightness in your chest
  • like your mouth is dry
  • like you can’t breathe
  • that you are choking
  • ringing in your ears
  • hot and flushed
  • uncontrollably shaky
  • pins and needles or tingling in your hands
  • that you need the toilet

Experiencing these symptoms may be distressing, especially if you have not had a panic attack before.

Although you may feel like you are in danger, panic attacks are not harmful. The physical effects of a panic attack are only temporary.

Panic attack symptoms normally go away on their own after about 20 minutes.


Phobia

If your anxiety is triggered by a specific situation or object, you may have a phobia. We explore what a phobia feels like below.

Psychological symptoms

Having a phobia can affect the way you think, feel, and behave. Being exposed to your phobia source may make you feel like:

  • you may lose control
  • something terrible is about to happen
  • you may faint
  • you may die

To avoid these feelings, you may organise your life so as to avoid your phobia source. For people with complex phobias, this may disrupt daily life.

Physical symptoms

Thinking about or coming into contact with the source of your phobia may cause physical symptoms. Your heart may beat faster and you may feel:

  • dizzy
  • sick
  • sweaty

Some people with phobias may experience panic attacks. The physical and psychological symptoms of panic attacks are explored in the section above.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

If your anxiety disorder was triggered by experiencing a traumatic event, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Let’s explore how PTSD may affect your mind and body.

Psychological symptoms

Having PTSD affects your mind in three main ways:

  • reexperiencing (reliving a traumatic event as a flashback or nightmare)
  • emotional numbing and avoidance (avoiding people or situations linked to trauma and suppressing feelings)
  • hyperarousal (feeling edgy or jumpy)

If you have PTSD, you may also obsess over how you could have avoided the trauma. This can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.

Physical symptoms

When a person with PTSD reexperiences their trauma, this can affect their body. Physical symptoms may include:

  • shaking
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • tummy ache
  • chest pains

Obsessive compulsive disorder

If your anxiety is accompanied by a obsessions or compulsions (or both), you may have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). We explore how OCD may affect your mind and body below.

Psychological symptoms

Obsessions and compulsions are the two main features of OCD. Obsessions affect your mind and compulsions tend to be physical acts.

Obsessions are distressing, unwanted thoughts that repeatedly enter your mind and make you anxious.

Every person with OCD experiences different obsessions. Common examples include:

  • fear of contamination
  • fear of disorder
  • fear of hurting yourself or others
  • fear of making a mistake
  • fear of embarrassment

These are themes that everyone may occasionally worries about. An obsession is a persistent, intrusive thought about these themes that disrupts your thinking.

Physical symptoms

Compulsions are repetitive physical acts or thoughts that your obsession drives you to complete.

Carrying out a compulsion may temporarily ease your anxiety. But then the obsession may renter your mind and start the pattern again.

Every person with OCD experiences different compulsions. Common examples include:

  • hand washing
  • counting
  • arranging items
  • touching things in a certain order
  • checking things in the house like doors or windows
  • checking how your body responds to thoughts

Compulsions are not always physical acts, they can be thoughts too. You may feel compelled to repeat certain things in your mind to relieve your anxiety. This is called a mental ritual.

Body dysmorphic disorder

If your anxiety is caused by fixating on a perceived flaw in your appearance, you may have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). We discuss how BBD may affect your mind and body below.

Psychological symptoms

BDD can cause fear and anxiety around your appearance. You may worry about a particular imperfection, fearing that others will notice it and judge you. Or you may repeatedly compare yourselves to others.

Physical symptoms

If you have BDD, anxiety about your appearance can affect your behaviour. You may:

  • repeatedly look in the mirror
  • obsessively groom yourself to cover your perceived flaw
  • spend a long time getting ready
  • pick at your skin

Perinatal anxiety

If you experience anxiety during or a year after pregnancy, you may have perinatal anxiety. Let’s explore the psychological and physical symptoms of perinatal anxiety.

Psychological symptoms

Perinatal anxiety may make you feel:

  • like something bad is about to happen
  • worried others will notice you are not coping
  • unable to stop thinking about a negative situation
  • overwhelmed, like your thoughts are racing

Physical symptoms

Perinatal anxiety may affect you physically too. You may have trouble sleeping. Other signs you may notice include:

  • your heart is beating faster
  • your muscles are tense
  • you are breathing faster
  • your tummy is churning
  • you need the loo more often
  • you have pins and needles
  • you feel lightheaded or dizzy

Health anxiety

If you are constantly worried that you may be seriously ill, you may have health anxiety. We discuss how health anxiety may make you feel below.

Psychological symptoms

Health anxiety affects the way you think about your health.

You may believe that you have a serious illness, despite the fact that you are well. You may misinterpret bodily processes or small physical changes as being a sign something is wrong.

Reassurance from the doctor that you are physically well may not put your mind at rest.

Physical symptoms and behaviours

Health anxiety can affect the way you behave. Because you believe you are unwell, you may:

  • repeatedly check your body for symptoms
  • go to the doctor frequently, believing that they are missing something
  • obsessively read about health conditions
  • rest and avoid physical activity

You may also experience physical anxiety symptoms like shakiness, tightness in the chest, or being short of breath.

Are you experiencing anxiety? Complete a self-assessment for advice.