Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous. But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and to do a better job. Ordinary anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life.
In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating. This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. In extreme cases, it may prevent you from entering an elevator, crossing the street, or even leaving your home. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone at any age. Anxiety is a key part of several different disorders. These include:
- panic disorder: experiencing recurring panic attacks at unexpected times. A person with panic disorder may live in fear of the next panic attack.
- phobia: excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity
- social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
- obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behaviors
- separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones
- illness anxiety disorder: anxiety about your health (formerly called hypochondria)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): anxiety following a traumatic event.
symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety feels different depending on the person experiencing it. Feelings can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart. You might feel out of control, like there’s a disconnect between your mind and body.
Other ways people experience anxiety include nightmares, panic attacks, and painful thoughts or memories that you can’t control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event. Symptoms of general anxiety include:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
Your anxiety symptoms might be totally different from someone else’s. That’s why it’s important to know all the ways anxiety can present itself.
An anxiety attack is a feeling of overwhelming apprehension, worry, distress, or fear. For many people, an anxiety attack builds slowly. It may worsen as a stressful event approaches.
Anxiety attacks can vary greatly, and symptoms may differ among individuals. That’s because the many symptoms of anxiety don’t happen to everyone, and they can change over time. Common symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
- feeling faint or dizzy
- shortness of breath
- dry mouth
- chills or hot flashes
- apprehension and worry
- numbness or tingling.