What Anxiety Feels Like

By Katharine Paljug  @kpaljug
November 08, 2016

What you should know about symptoms of anxiety, the most common mental health disorder in the United States.

Everyone worries from time to time or feels stress caused by work and family obligations.

For some people, however, their feelings go beyond stress and worry into something that feels out of control. Thinking about things that could go wrong, or worrying over events that are coming up and tasks that need to be done, keeps them from getting through the day and prevents them from sleeping at night.

If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from anxiety.


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Anxiety is now the most common mental health disorder in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), more than 40 million adults, or 18 percent of total population, suffer from some level of anxiety disorder. A 2015 article in The New York Times reported that more college students suffer from anxiety than depression.

Anxiety is treatable, but less than one third of the people it affects seek help. That’s because many adults — and even more children — don’t know the signs of anxiety or how to tell when those feelings are different from normal worry. 

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, may start out feeling like normal stress over everyday concerns, but it quickly spirals out of control. You find yourself worrying more than you know you should. You spend large portions of the day feeling restless, easily startled, and unable to concentrate on anything other than what worries you.

You may be unable to sleep or relax. People with anxiety often have to go to the bathroom frequently, suffer from headaches or stomach pain, or develop twitching and knotted muscles.

If you are having an anxiety attack, you may feel panicky, dizzy, or lightheaded. Your heart may begin to race while you sweat or develop clammy hands. Your worry and fear may become paralyzing, preventing you from doing anything positive to control the situation.

Or you might feel none of those specific symptoms but simply be overwhelmed with worry, spending all your time thinking about what needs to happen and what can go wrong.

All of these symptoms may be signs of anxiety, which can make the disorder difficult to diagnose. However, the common thread in all forms of anxiety is uncontrolled worry that takes over your mind.

If you find yourself unable to go about your everyday routine because of the time you spend feeling anxious and worried, you may be suffering from anxiety. 


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Anxiety disorders

In addition to generalized anxiety, there are also more specific anxiety disorders that manifest in different ways.

Panic attacks, sometimes called panic disorder, are sudden, intense periods of fear that are mentally and physically overwhelming. They often include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating, and a feeling of impending doom. The ADAA reports that 6 million adults in the U.S. experience panic attacks, and approximately two-thirds of them are women. 

Social anxiety disorder affects even more people, approximately 15 million American adults. It is equally common among men and women, and most people begin to show symptoms around age 13. These can include feeling afraid of talking with other people, fear of social situations, feeling nauseated or sweaty when you think about interacting with other people, and staying home in order to avoid social interactions.

Anxiety disorders are sometimes related to specific life events. Research has found that pregnant and postpartum women can suffer from anxiety-related problems even if they do not experience symptoms at other times in their lives. Though researchers don’t know how many women experience pregnancy-related anxiety or exactly what triggers it, studies have found that anxiety can create health risks for both mothers and babies. 

Anxiety is also strongly related to depression, and nearly half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.  

If you or a loved one shows symptoms of an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor to receive a diagnosis and learn about treatment options. There are a variety of resources, medications, and behavioral therapies that can help you manage your condition and take control of your everyday life. 


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April 03, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA