Anxiety Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

Anxiety disorders are very common. They are prevalent in today’s fast-paced society, yet most sufferers of this mental illness remain underdiagnosed and undertreated.

What’s normal?

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Many people feel nervous when faced with stressful situations, such as managing problems at work, taking a test, or making important decisions.


People with anxiety disorders experience worry and fear as constant and overwhelming. If anxiety starts interfering with your ability to lead a normal life, it may have crossed the line into a disorder, and you should consult a physician.


Like other mental disorders, anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of several risk factors, including changes in the brain, genetics, and environmental stress.

Researchers have discovered that people with anxiety disorders often have chemical imbalances in the brain that involve the way nerve cells communicate with each other.

Research has also shown that people with anxiety disorders may have problems in the brain circuits that regulate fear. Anxiety disorders often run in families and can be inherited. Finally, life stress (especially at an early age) can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.


Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Stomach upset or diarrhea
  • Frequent urination
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath or breathlessness
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Fatigue or extreme exhaustion
  • Insomnia or sleeplessness
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness

Mental Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Excessive worry that is difficult to control
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Flashbacks of a traumatic experience
  • Feelings of intense fear or panic
  • Feeling that you are losing control or going crazy


There are several types of anxiety disorders, including –

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • People with GAD worry excessively, even over trivial matters, and realize that their worry is often more intense than the situations warrant.
  • They have difficulty controlling their worry.
  • They feel keyed up or on edge all of the time.
  • They always think of the bad outcome or “worst-case scenarios.”
  • They often suffer from fatigue, muscle tension, headaches, and/or stomach upset.

Anxiety Attacks (Panic Disorder)

  • People who have panic disorder experience repeated, unexpected panic attacks and have anxiety about having panic attacks.
  • They may have agoraphobia – fear of not being able to escape from a place in times of a panic attack. As a result, they often avoid public places like theaters, shopping malls, airplanes, etc.


  • People with phobias have an unrealistic or excessive fear of a particular place, human, animal, object, or situation that normally poses little to no danger.
  • Examples of phobias are acrophobia (fear of heights), achluophobia (fear of the dark), ailurophobia (fear of cats), etc.
  • Frequent avoidance of the object of fear strengthens the phobia.

Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Social anxiety disorder or social phobia refers to the fear of being perceived negatively by others and of public humiliation.
  • During extreme cases, people suffering from social phobia avoid contact with people altogether.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

  • People who have witnessed or experienced traumatic or life-threatening events may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • At times, sufferers may have panic attacks triggered by reminders of the stressful event.
  • They also report flashbacks or nightmares of traumatic events.
  • They can become easily startled and are very watchful of their surroundings.
  • They may withdraw socially to avoid situations that could trigger the same traumatic feelings.


You may consider seeing a general doctor if your anxiety symptoms negatively impact your daily life. Your doctor will take your vitals and do a physical exam to verify that you are not suffering from a physical illness. Then, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional (usually a psychiatrist) who will use various assessment tools and a specialized interview to evaluate you for an anxiety disorder.


Certain medications can be helpful for anxiety disorders. These usually work best with psychotherapy (talk therapy), dietary changes, and relaxation techniques. Many kinds of talk therapy can be helpful. A few are listed below:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a very effective form of talk therapy that challenges negative, ruminative thinking patterns and the illogical beliefs that trigger anxiety. This type of therapy also encourages behaviors that promote well-being.
  2. Exposure therapy is another helpful type of counseling that involves exposing oneself to the object, thought, or situation that triggers anxiety. A greater sense of control is obtained via repeated exposure to the traumatic situation or the feared object, either in reality or virtually.
  3. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy can also be helpful for anxiety and involves understanding the subconscious undercurrents that drive anxiety.
  4. Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy: When medication and psychotherapy don’t work, you can try TMS therapy to reduce anxiety disorder symptoms. It uses magnetic fields to calm specific parts of the brain that cause anxiety.

Anxiety FAQs

Yes, anxiety can cause chest pain. It’s a common symptom and can be described as sharp, shooting pain, persistent chest aching, or an unusual muscle twitch or spasm in your chest.

The pain may arise due to contractions in the chest wall, muscle strain caused by hyperventilation, or a sudden blood pressure and heart rate spike. If you feel it frequently, it’s essential to visit a doctor to identify whether it’s anxiety or a physical illness.

When you feel anxious, your body goes into flight or fight mode, resulting in a spike in blood pressure. If those spikes frequently occur over time, they can cause significant damage to your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.

The term anxiety attack describes an episode of extreme worry, discomfort, or fear that stimulates a variety of physical symptoms like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, uncontrollable thoughts, irritability, chest pain, feelings of panic, and more. These symptoms can vary from person to person and situation to situation.

Anxiety attacks usually arise due to stressful triggers and can last a few seconds to 20 minutes or longer.

Yes, anxiety causes many physical symptoms, including dizziness and nausea. The reason is your body’s fight-or-flight response, which activates when you feel anxious and increases your blood pressure and heart rate.

You might feel “butterflies in the stomach,” like what you get before your public presentation or a job interview. The feeling may pass fairly quickly or grow worse, making you sick to your stomach.

The SSA’s “blue book” lists specific anxiety disorders that can qualify you for benefits if properly diagnosed. Your condition must significantly limit your daily activities, impair your social function and concentration, and cause regular episodes of worsening symptoms.

Your doctor will need to submit medical evidence of the diagnosis.

Adderall isn’t an anti-anxiety medication, as it can worsen your symptoms. It is FDA-approved to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Although it can provide short-term relief for some anxiety disorders, the risk of increased anxiety remains.

Research suggests that anxiety is hereditary. Several studies conducted throughout the years have shown that certain chromosomal characteristics are linked to phobias and panic disorder; the RBFOX1 gene may make someone more likely to develop a generalized anxiety disorder; and social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are all linked to specific genes.

Recently, a 2017 study concluded that GAD could be inherited. However, other factors are also at play, like traumatic life experiences or physical conditions linked to anxiety, such as thyroid disorders. In other words, it’s possible to have anxiety without it running in your family. More research is needed to link genes and anxiety disorders.

Anxiety itself won’t kill you, but it has been linked to heart disease and several other symptoms that pose a threat to your health.

When it comes to the effect of nicotine on anxiety, studies have shown contradictory results. Some show that small doses of nicotine increase anxiety, while others report the drug actually reduces anxiety.

However, we are sure that when you try to quit and flush the drug out of your system, it will trigger feelings of anxiety. It’s best to avoid nicotine if you want a healthy lifestyle.

High doses of caffeine are known to induce anxiety symptoms. So, a cup of coffee is perfect for jolting your awareness. But if you overdo it, your alertness and awareness can become anxiety. Limiting or staying away from caffeine is best if you already show anxiety symptoms.

Drugs don’t cure anxiety disorders but can help you manage your symptoms. With the right medications, you can function well and feel better in your day-to-day life.

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