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What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. When you know what does anxiety feel like and what does anxiety look like, you will be prepared to get help if you or someone that you care about develops one of these conditions. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a general term that can refer to several distinct disorders. 

In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the standard reference for mental health professionals in the United States, the anxiety disorders section includes entries for the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (which is also commonly referred to as social phobia)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific phobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Selective mutism

These and other types of anxiety disorders are characterized by overwhelming worry and excessive fear. They are differentiated primarily by the circumstances that bring about the onset of symptoms, as well as how these symptoms manifest.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Just about everyone understands what it’s like to have moments of intense nervousness, fear, or worry. But the symptoms of anxiety disorders can be much more painful and disruptive than these common temporary experiences.

What does anxiety feel like to someone who has one of the disorders listed in the previous section? Here are a few examples:

  • Pervasive, recurring thoughts that something terrible is about to happen to you or someone that you care about
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Problems concentrating or focusing
  • Relentless fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Frequent headaches and stomach aches
  • Persistent muscle tension
  • Racing heart rate and chest pain
  • Feeling of being choked or smothered
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Elevated body temperature and excessive perspiration
  • Tingling in your fingers and toes
  • Sense of being detached from your surroundings
  • Feeling as though you have been separated from your body, thoughts, and emotions

Someone who has generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder may develop symptoms for no apparent reason. 

  • Symptoms of GAD will be present most of the day, most days, for at least six consecutive months. 
  • Symptoms of panic disorder will be brief – often lasting no more than 10 minutes at a time – but they can be extremely distressing.

For other anxiety disorders, symptoms usually occur when the individual is confronted with (or thinks about) certain situations or circumstances. There are myriad potential triggers for anxiety disorder symptoms, including:

  • Being in an enclosed or wide open space
  • Being in the midst of a crowd
  • Giving a speech or presentation
  • Meeting new people
  • Being separated from a loved one
  • Seeing a needle or blood
  • Encountering a spider

To meet the criteria for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, these symptoms must be severe or persistent enough to cause emotional difficulties and undermine a person’s ability to function in one or more areas of life. As we will discuss in greater detail in the next section, anxiety disorder symptoms can also cause physical and behavioral changes.

What Does Anxiety Look Like?

Knowing what does anxiety feel like can help you decide if you should schedule a mental health assessment or seek treatment. Understanding what the symptoms of anxiety disorders look like can help you determine if a friend or family member may be in crisis.

The following are examples of physical and behavioral symptoms that could indicate that a person has an anxiety disorder:

  • Appearing exhausted or disheveled
  • Having difficulty following a line of thought or participating in a conversation
  • Refusing to participate in projects at work or in school
  • Passing up opportunities for promotion
  • Being unwilling to take public transportation
  • Expressing an unwillingness to attend social events or other gatherings
  • Becoming overly alarmed when separated from a loved one
  • Sweating profusely and having difficulty standing up
  • Exhibiting uncharacteristic irritation or agitation
  • Withdrawing from friends and family members

Unless you are a trained professional, you cannot diagnose someone with an anxiety disorder. But when you know what does anxiety feel like and look like, you can make informed suggestions about consulting with a doctor or other healthcare provider. 

For people who exhibit the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders, completing an assessment and receiving a diagnosis can be essential steps on the path to improved health.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

When a person is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the ideal course of treatment may include medication and therapy. Depending on the nature and severity of their symptoms, they may need to receive care at one or more of the following levels:

Learning to manage symptoms is an important part of treatment. In the case of anxiety symptoms, the following can be helpful:

  • Practicing mindfulness: This involves being fully present in the moment and experiencing both internal thoughts and external events without judgement. Turning your focus away from possible future problems can reduce your anxiety level.
  • Getting regular exercise: Physical activity can be a fantastic stress-management tool. When you find an activity that you enjoy (such as walking, bike riding, or gardening), you will be more likely to make it a regular part of your life.
  • Avoiding isolation: Spending excessive amounts of time alone can cause minor worries to transform into major concerns. Communicating with trusted friends or family members in person, through phone calls or text messages, or via videoconferencing platforms can help you manage your emotions.
  • Journaling: Recording your thoughts, feelings, and activities forces you to look at your life from a slightly different perspective. This can help you place difficult feelings in their proper context.

Find Anxiety Treatment in Nashville

If you or someone that you care about can benefit from personalized professional treatment for an anxiety disorder, Arbor Wellness is here to help. At our anxiety treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, you or your loved one can receive focused services from a team of skilled and compassionate professionals.

Our team can assess the full scope of your needs, then develop a customized plan that can put you on the path toward improved health and a more satisfying future. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call our center today