- Women and Anxiety
- Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- Types of Anxiety Disorders
- ADAA Resources
- Trending Articles
- Other Resources
- What does anxiety feel like and how does it affect the body?
- 11 Signs Of Anxiety That Are Particularly Common In Women
- 1. You’re Reluctant To Seek Help With Your Anxiety
- 2. You’re Also Depressed
- 3. You’re Not Able To Function In Daily Life
- 4. You’re Always Worrying About Something
- 5. You’re Scared About Being In Social Situations
- 6. You’re Having Panic Attacks
- 7. You’re Scared To Leave The House
- 8. You’re Constantly Worried About Getting Sick
- 9. You’re Having Compulsive Behaviors
- 10. You’re Having Trouble Sleeping & Are Restless
- 11. You’re Advised To Take Medications
- 1. You catastrophize frequently.
- 2. You have trouble falling — and staying — asleep.
- 3. You frequently stress about your relationship.
- 4. You dwell a lot on your appearance.
- 5. You avoid social situations or parties.
- 6. You’re constantly comparing yourself to others.
- 7. You struggle with drugs or alcohol.
- What to Do If You’re Struggling With Anxiety
- Anxiety Disorders and Anxiety Attacks
- Do you struggle with anxiety? Here’s how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and different types of anxiety—and find the relief you need.
- Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders
- What is an anxiety attack?
- Types of anxiety disorders and their symptoms
- Self-help for anxiety
- When to seek professional help for anxiety symptoms
- Treatment for anxiety disorders
- The Reasons Behind Anxiety in Women
- Chemical Imbalances That Cause Anxiety
- Stress and the Female Fight or Flight Response
- Hormonal Imbalances that Cause Stress
- Ways to Stay Chemically and Hormonally Balanced
- Anxiety Disorders
Women and Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions – just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States. An estimated 264 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder.5 Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In the past year, prevalence of any anxiety disorder was higher for females (23.4%) than for males (14.3%).1 The term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.
- Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- Types of Anxiety Disorders
- ADAA Resources
- Other Resources
- Trending Articles#Trending Articles
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
- Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
If you or someone you know express one or more symptoms, please seek professional help.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorders, or GAD, includes excessive anxiety and worry about ordinary activities or events such as health, family, money or work. GAD can disrupt every day life by interfering with work, school or family. Learn more about GAD here.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions.2
Panic Disorder is diagnosed in people who experience spontaneous ad unexpected panic attacks and are very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack. Because these attacks are so unpredictable, many women may have intense anxiety between panic attacks.3
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.4 Five out of ten women experience a traumatic event and women tend to experience different traumas than men. Learn more about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder here.
Social Anxiety is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and self-conscious in every situations. Learn more about Social Anxiety here.
Treatment options and resources are usually the same for women as men, with the exception of women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Anxiety can worsen, improve, or stay the same during pregnancy, and that may affect treatment. Learn about medication use during pregnancy here.
Most people who seek treatment experience significant improvement and enjoy an improved quality of life. Find a Therapist
Join the ADAA online support group or find a local support group near you.
- Adolescent Girls and Anxiety
- Back to School Anxiety
- Health Anxiety: What It is and How to Beat It
- Social Anxiety: Imperfect is the New Perfect
- Questioning Whether You Have OCD When You Have OCD
Read more blog posts on anxiety here.
- Back-to-School Anxiety in High School and College
- Bullying, Anxiety, and Depression
- Building Bridges: Bringing Anxiety Treatments to Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder
- For My Anxiety or Depression: Should I Use Medication or Therapy?
- Mind Over Mood
- Anxiety Disorders in Women
- Fear of Weight Gain From SSRIs
- Feeling Good
- Treating Anxiety and Depression in the Transitional Years (Ages 18-25)
- Understanding Anxiety in Children
Personal Stories of Triumph
- Abigail’s Story
- Allison’s Story
- An Emotion More Powerful Than Fear
- Kayleigh’s Story
- Speaking Up About Anxiety and Depression
- Stephanie’s Story
- How To Stop Your Anxiety From Screwing Up A Great Relationship
- Why Women Are More Prone To Anxiety Than Men, According To A New Study
- Too Much Pressure? 7 Tips for Stressed-Out Women
- What It’s Like to Live With PTSD After Escaping Domestic Violence
- Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Redefining Postpartum Depression
- Why Are Black Women Suffering from PTSD?
- 5 Effective Strategies to Help You Overcome Sexual Dysfunction
- How Pregnancy Loss Can Increase the Risk for Anxiety Disorders
- We Need to Talk About Mental Health at Work
- Kendall Jenner Opens up About Crippling Anxiety: ‘Sometimes it’s out of your Control’
- The State of Research on PCOS and Mental Health
- 9 Reasons Why You’re Waking Up with Anxiety
- The One iPhone Feature I Use to Calm My Raging Anxiety
- How to Survive a Panic Attack in Public
- 9 Tips to Help Fight Travel Anxiety
- ‘I Have A Severe Phobia—Here’s What It’s Like’ – Women’s Health Magazine
- The Comorbidity Of Anxiety And Depression – NAMI blog post by ADAA President Beth Salcedo, MD
- Anxiety Disorders – womenshealth.gov
- Esperanza – Hope to Cope with Anxiety and Depression
What does anxiety feel like and how does it affect the body?
Share on PinterestDizziness and lightheadedness are potential symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety can have a significant effect on the body, and long-term anxiety increases the risk of developing chronic physical conditions.
The medical community suspects that anxiety develops in the amygdala, an area of the brain that manages emotional responses.
When a person becomes anxious, stressed, or frightened, the brain sends signals to other parts of the body. The signals communicate that the body should prepare to fight or flee.
The body responds, for example, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which many describe as stress hormones.
The fight or flight response is useful when confronting an aggressive person, but it is less helpful when going for a job interview or giving a presentation. Also, it is not healthy for this response to persist in the long term.
Some of the ways that anxiety affects the body include:
Breathing and respiratory changes
During periods of anxiety, a person’s breathing may become rapid and shallow, which is called hyperventilation.
Hyperventilation allows the lungs to take in more oxygen and transport it around the body quickly. Extra oxygen helps the body prepare to fight or flee.
Hyperventilation can make people feel like they are not getting enough oxygen and they may gasp for breath. This can worsen hyperventilation and its symptoms, which include:
- feeling faint
Cardiovascular system response
Anxiety can cause changes to the heart rate and the circulation of blood throughout the body.
A faster heart rate makes it easier to flee or fight, while increased blood flow brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
When blood vessels narrow, this is called vasoconstriction, and it can affect body temperature. People often experience hot flashes as a result of vasoconstriction.
In response, the body sweats to cool down. This can sometimes be too effective and make a person feel cold.
Long-term anxiety may not be good for the cardiovascular system and heart health. Some studies suggest that anxiety increases the risk of heart diseases in otherwise healthy people.
Impaired immune function
In the short-term, anxiety boosts the immune system’s responses. However, prolonged anxiety can have the opposite effect.
Cortisol prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation, and it turns off aspects of the immune system that fight infections, impairing the body’s natural immune response.
People with chronic anxiety disorders may be more likely to get the common cold, the flu, and other types of infection.
Changes in digestive function
Cortisol blocks processes that the body considers nonessential in a fight or flight situation.
One of these blocked processes is digestion. Also, adrenaline reduces blood flow and relaxes the stomach muscles.
As a result, a person with anxiety may experience nausea, diarrhea, and a feeling that the stomach is churning. They may also lose their appetite.
Some research suggests that stress and depression are linked to several digestive diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
One study, of outpatients at a gastroenterology clinic in Mumbai, reported that 30–40 percent of participants with IBS also had anxiety or depression.
Anxiety and stress can increase the need to urinate, and this reaction is more common in people with phobias.
The need to urinate or a loss of control over urination may have an evolutionary basis, as it is easier to flee with an empty bladder.
However, the link between anxiety and an increased urge to urinate remains unclear.
11 Signs Of Anxiety That Are Particularly Common In Women
There’s such a thing as having the butterflies before an important work meeting or date, but chronic, debilitating anxiety is certainly something to take more seriously. If you think you might show symptoms of having an anxiety disorder, it’s wise to seek help from a counselor or engage in holistic approaches to health in order to calm down, feel more confident and assured, and break free of the tension. Anxiety disorders are especially prevalent in women; “men are somewhat more protected from anxiety because of their higher levels of testosterone. Testosterone calms the amygdala, the brain’s ‘fight or flight’ center, and also enhances the natural calming effects of the brain chemical GABA. Culturally, men have been socialized to be more ‘in control’ of their emotions, so they may more often present with some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as racing heart, dizziness, vertigo, or insomnia,” explains Rita Milios, LCSW, psychotherapist and expert writer for Pro Corner on Recovery.org over email with Bustle.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on addressing mental and health conditions that can be hindering their ability to function normally or feel totally at peace in their surroundings. Together, we work on building a healthier relationship regarding self-confidence, composure and control under stress, and emotional regulation to get them back on track. Pressure stinks, and it’s totally understandable to feel anxious. Still, getting the help you need to quell the nerves and worries and handle the situation will help you prevent problems and find easier and quicker solutions. Here are 11 ways to recognize that you may have an anxiety disorder, so that you can seek the guidance you need to start feeling happier, healthier, and way more relaxed each day.
1. You’re Reluctant To Seek Help With Your Anxiety
“The kind of psychology of and stigma associated with fear and with worry, both are which important symptoms of anxiety disorders, sort of dictate whether or not people think it’s appropriate to seek help,” explains Kristen Carpenter, PhD at the Center for Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center over email with Bustle. “So it appears that men when feeling fearful or worried see this as different or pathological or they’re in need of help because of it and therefore, more motivated to seek out help. Whereas women, the theory goes all the way back to the Victorian era in which hysteria was an actual diagnosis for women or neurosis were a common diagnosis for women,” explains Carpenter.
2. You’re Also Depressed
Carpenter explains that anxiety is often paired with depression, especially in women with an anxiety disorder. “What we also know that women suffering from anxiety disorders are more likely to experience what we would refer to as c-occurring depression. In women, the picture is often more complex because they’re reporting anxiety, fear and worry in addition to feeling sad and disengaged. It’s hard to know what you’re coming in for help with when you have a layered situation like that,” explains Carpenter.
3. You’re Not Able To Function In Daily Life
“It’s not a bad thing to be anxious some of the time, in fact it can be a very good thing. If we weren’t ever anxious, we wouldn’t try to be on time, we wouldn’t get and go to work in the morning, we wouldn’t budget and save money,” explains Carpenter. “But signs that your anxiety might meet criteria for disorder really have to do with the degree to which you’re distressed by the anxiety and the degree to which it causes or maintains functional impairment and makes it hard for you to do the activities from your day-to-day life: manage your family, manage social interactions and that sort of thing. So if you find that your anxiety itself feels like it’s outside of what would be sort of normal human experience, then it makes sense to find some help,” Carpenter recommends.
4. You’re Always Worrying About Something
Even if something isn’t a big deal, if you’re worrying constantly, you might have an anxiety disorder, advises Carpenter. “There’s generalized anxiety disorder which is a condition of excessive worry. Excessive, distressing and difficult to control worry. If you’re a person who finds yourself worrying most of the day, nearly every day or much of the time, that might be something to consider talking to someone about,” adds Carpenter.
5. You’re Scared About Being In Social Situations
“The next class that we would talk about is social anxiety disorder and that is significant fear of negative evaluation or being humiliated in public. Again, everyone is going to be a little fearful some of the time, especially in a public speaking situation or sometimes when you’re in a new environment and don’t know many people that are there, you’re going to have that safety of familiarity,” says Carpenter. “But if your fear of social interactions rises to the level that interacting with people at a store or waiting in line or ordering a meal at a restaurant become really difficult for you, that might be a signal that it makes sense to talk to somebody,” Carpenter warns.
6. You’re Having Panic Attacks
“This is a disorder in which an individual experiences panic attacks and that is an anxiety attack that will arises every quickly and sometimes triggered by a stressful event, sometimes triggered by nothing,” advises Carpenter. “Signs of a panic attack include: 1) palpitations, or feeling as though your heart is racing; 2) chest pain; 3) Nausea; 4) intense fear of losing control, dying, or “going crazy”; 5) light headedness; 6) abnormal sensation of tingling or ‘pins and needles’; 7) shaking; 8) sweating; 9) choking; or 10) shortness of breath,” advise Dr. Charles Galanis, plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills and Robert Dorfman, a research fellow at the Department of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Northwestern, MSc, over email with Bustle.
7. You’re Scared To Leave The House
“If an individual has panic attacks and have that fear, then sometimes they will also avoid going outside, being outside, being in public places, which we refer to as agoraphobia, it’s a fear of being out in the environment in which you can’t escape…You’re afraid being out in the world for fear that you won’t be able to escape something that makes you anxious or panicky,” explains Carpenter. If you are anxious about leaving your home, it could definitely relate to an anxiety disorder and interfere with normal functioning. Galanis and Dorfman describe it as “a fear of open or enclosed spaces, such as using public transportation, leaving home alone, or being in large crowds.”
8. You’re Constantly Worried About Getting Sick
It’s not just anxiety when someone around you sneezes on your arm. “You’re constantly checking yourself, noticing that ‘I’ve got a little bit of a headache. Is something wrong with me?’ and kind of thinking that any little sign or symptom is a signal that something terrible is going to happen to you,” advises Carpenter, can be linked to anxiety disorder. “You go to the doctor a lot to get things checked out and again repeatedly told ‘you’re fine, you’re healthy, there’s nothing wrong here,’ and if it doesn’t calm your nerves, still, then it’s a sign of a disorder.
9. You’re Having Compulsive Behaviors
“Those thoughts are often associated with compulsive behaviors (rituals that people might engage in) to reduce stress,” advises Carpenter. “It doesn’t necessarily directly address the fear, but it helps the patient feel better to do the ritual or do the compulsion. So in that case, if you either have those intrusive thoughts, they’re really distracting. Or you find yourself engaging in a variety of behaviors unrelated to your fears or anxiety, that might be a signal that you might be someone with an obsessive compulsive disorder,” further adds Carpenter.
10. You’re Having Trouble Sleeping & Are Restless
“Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves anxiety that is not related to any specific situation, event, or person. People with GAD may experience feelings of restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and fatigue,” say Galanis and Dorfman. “The general anxiety must last for six months or more in order for a diagnosis of GAD to be made,” Galanis and Dorfman add.
11. You’re Advised To Take Medications
After speaking with a therapist, if he or she recommends you take medication to treat anxiety or depression, it’s worth accepting that you might have a larger disorder at hand, and the additional remedy could help you heal. “Treatments for anxiety disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy as well as antidepressants like SSRI’s (Prozac, Zoloft, etc) and SNRI’s (Effexor, Cymbalta, etc),” advise Galanis and Dorfman.
If you notice any of these types of symptoms or situations happening in your life, around your anxiety and mental state, it’s possible you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder. It’s especially likely if you’re a woman (sorry ladies), as women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with a disorder and to experience symptoms at an earlier age in life than men are, as explained by Galanis and Dorfman. Yikes (try not to worry).
Images: (7); Pexels (5)
1. You catastrophize frequently.
The number one sign of a generalized anxiety disorder is constant worry that gets in the way of doing everyday tasks. It’s okay if this happens from time to time but “at some point, given enough difficult experiences, it can cross the line into disorder,” Dr. Chambless says.
Generally speaking, Dr. Chamless says thoughts typically associated with generalized anxiety disorders are two-fold:
- Thinking it’s highly likely that something bad is going to happen, AND
- Thinking that if that something bad does happen, it would be truly awful
For example, if you’re socially anxious and you’re about to give a big talk at work, you’ll not only worry that people won’t like the presentation but you’ll also catastrophize that if you blow it, you’ll lose your job.
2. You have trouble falling — and staying — asleep.
Stress and anxiety can cause or exacerbate existing sleeping problems, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Not only does mentally running through your to-do list keep you up at night, but some researchers theorize that biological factors – like your brain structure or the neurotransmitters in your body — may also play a role, according to a systematic review published in Sleep.
To make matters worse, missing out on sufficient sleep (about seven to eight hours per night for most people) can also aggravate symptoms of anxiety. “If you’re consistently getting less than enough, your body’s not working at its top level, which makes you more susceptible to feeling anxious,” says Dr. Ward.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other physical symptoms associated with anxiety include:
- Muscle tension or aches
- Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
3. You frequently stress about your relationship.
This can take a toll on a friendship or marriage as the person with anxiety seeks reassurance, Dr. Chambless says — not just occasionally, but over, and over, and over again. Constantly being on edge can also breed irritability, another stressor that can impact the quality of the relationship.
4. You dwell a lot on your appearance.
While some of us may notice a new wrinkle, put a little makeup on it, and go on with our day, people with an anxiety order may become overly fixated on how they look
“A person who’s more anxious might obsesses about their appearance before they leave the house, ruminate on it more during the day, or even feel ‘Gosh, I don’t want to go to that dinner tonight because I don’t like the way that I feel,'” Dr. Ward explains.
To keep anxiety at bay, someone with GAD might skip out on events that may trigger their anxiety — which only impacts how they get along with others more. On top of that, dodging social events can put a strain on your relationship. “It restricts the spouse’s world as well as the world of the person who has the problem,” Dr. Chambless says.
6. You’re constantly comparing yourself to others.
Social status and money come up a lot among Dr. Ward’s clients, whether it’s dwelling on a friend’s exotic vacation or their kids going to a better school. While it’s common to feel a fleeting “I wish I had that,” this type of anxiety goes beyond momentary envy.
“It may become a major concern for people with anxiety,” Dr. Ward says. “It becomes a slippery slope where they have a lot of negative or over-exaggerated thinking.”
If you spend a lot of time on social media, that may only exacerbate this kinds of comparison-based thinking.
7. You struggle with drugs or alcohol.
While there’s no proof that substance abuse can cause GAD or vice versa, there is evidence of a relationship between the two.
Approximately 20% of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20% of those with a substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder, according to the ADAA.
“Anxiety problems tend to start before substance abuse,” Dr. Chambless says. “We think at least some people start using drugs to self-medicate.” As for how much is too much, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for adult women, and up to two per day for men.
What to Do If You’re Struggling With Anxiety
Having anxiety can feel overwhelming and debilitating at times, but there are a lot of ways you can address these feelings and find help. Talk your doctor, who may refer you to a professional psychologist or licensed clinical social worker for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or a psychiatrist to discuss medication options. In addition to seeking professional advice, these steps may also help:
- Get more sleep. Experts recommend sleeping for at least seven hours each night to avoid negative effects on your mood, focus, and decision-making.
- Exercise more. Working out produces endorphins, which can help offset anxiety, Dr. Ward says.
- Rethink your diet. Getting the sufficient nutrients you need from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can improve your mood, according to GH Nutrition Director
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN.
- Try mindfulness techniques. Practicing meditation or yoga may help elicit a relaxation response to offset stress, Dr. Ward says.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and feel worried about your health or safety, you can contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This free, confidential information service can provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations
Caroline Picard Health Editor Caroline is the Health Editor at GoodHousekeeping.com covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.
Anxiety Disorders and Anxiety Attacks
Do you struggle with anxiety? Here’s how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and different types of anxiety—and find the relief you need.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger, the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response that is triggered when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a challenging situation, such as a job interview, exam, or first date. In moderation, anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help you to stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming—when worries and fears interfere with your relationships and daily life—you’ve likely crossed the line from normal anxiety into the territory of an anxiety disorder.
Since anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions rather than a single disorder, symptoms may vary from person to person. One individual may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that strike without warning, while another gets panicky at the thought of mingling at a party. Someone else may struggle with a disabling fear of driving, or uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts. Yet another may live in a constant state of tension, worrying about anything and everything. But despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders illicit an intense fear or worry out of proportion to the situation at hand.
While having an anxiety disorder can be disabling, preventing you from living the life you want, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues—and are highly treatable. Once you understand your anxiety disorder, there are steps you can take to reduce the symptoms and regain control of your life.
Do I have an anxiety disorder?
If you identify with any of the following seven signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder:
- Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?
- Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?
- Are you plagued by fears that you know are irrational, but can’t shake?
- Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way?
- Do you avoid everyday situations or activities because they cause you anxiety?
- Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?
- Do you feel like danger and catastrophe are around every corner?
Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders
In addition to the primary symptom of excessive and irrational fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Watching for signs of danger
- Anticipating the worst
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
But anxiety is more than just a feeling. As a product of the body’s fight-or-flight response, anxiety also involves a wide range of physical symptoms, including:
- Pounding heart
- Stomach upset
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension or twitches
- Shaking or trembling
Because of these physical symptoms, anxiety sufferers often mistake their disorder for a medical illness. They may visit many doctors and make numerous trips to the hospital before their anxiety disorder is finally recognized.
Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety and depression are believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse (and vice versa), it’s important to seek treatment for both conditions.
What is an anxiety attack?
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. Anxiety attacks usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger—getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give—but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.
Anxiety attacks usually peak within 10 minutes, and they rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during that short time, you may experience terror so severe that you feel as if you’re about to die or totally lose control. The physical symptoms of anxiety attacks are themselves so frightening that many people think they’re having a heart attack. After an anxiety attack is over, you may worry about having another one, particularly in a public place where help isn’t available or you can’t easily escape.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
- Surge of overwhelming panic
- Feeling of losing control or going crazy
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Trouble breathing or choking sensation
- Hot flashes or chills
- Trembling or shaking
- Nausea or stomach cramps
- Feeling detached or unreal
It’s important to seek help if you’re starting to avoid certain situations because you’re afraid of having a panic attack. The truth is that panic attacks are highly treatable. In fact, many people are panic free within just 5 to 8 treatment sessions.
Types of anxiety disorders and their symptoms
Anxiety disorders and conditions closely related to anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities, or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are chronic worrywarts who feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Anxiety related to GAD often manifests in physical symptoms like insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, and fatigue.
Panic attacks and panic disorder
Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Agoraphobia, the fear of being somewhere where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack, may also accompany a panic disorder. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls, or confined spaces such as an airplane.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. If you have OCD, you may feel troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your hands over and over.
Phobias and irrational fears
A phobia is an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals (such as snakes and spiders), fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the object of your fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only strengthens the phobia.
Social anxiety disorder
If you have a debilitating fear of being viewed negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a panic attack that rarely, if ever, lets up. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about the incident, hypervigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
Separation anxiety disorder
While separation anxiety is a normal stage of development, if anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. Children with separation anxiety disorder may become agitated at just the thought of being away from mom or dad and complain of sickness to avoid playing with friends or going to school.
Self-help for anxiety
Not everyone who worries a lot has an anxiety disorder. You may feel anxious because of an overly demanding schedule, lack of exercise or sleep, pressure at home or work, or even from too much caffeine. The bottom line is that if your lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful, you’re more likely to feel anxious—whether or not you actually have an anxiety disorder. These tips can help to lower anxiety and manage symptoms of a disorder:
Connect with others. Loneliness and isolation can trigger or worsen anxiety, while talking about your worries face to face can often make them seem less overwhelming. Make it a point to regularly meet up with friends, join a self-help or support group, or share your worries and concerns with a trusted loved one. If you don’t have anyone you can reach out to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and a support network.
Manage stress. If your stress levels are through the roof, stress management can help. Look at your responsibilities and see if there are any you can give up, turn down, or delegate to others.
Practice relaxation techniques. When practiced regularly relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing can reduce anxiety symptoms and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress buster and anxiety reliever. To achieve the maximum benefit, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days (broken up into short periods if that’s easier). Rhythmic activities that require moving both your arms and legs are especially effective. Try walking, running, swimming, martial arts, or dancing.
Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings, so try to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night.
Be smart about caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. If you struggle with anxiety, you may want to consider reducing your caffeine intake, or cutting it out completely. Similarly alcohol can also make anxiety worse. And while it may seem like cigarettes are calming, nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant that leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety. For help kicking the habit, see How to Quit Smoking.
Put a stop to chronic worrying. Worrying is a mental habit you can learn how to break. Strategies such as creating a worry period, challenging anxious thoughts, and learning to accept uncertainty can significantly reduce worry and calm your anxious thoughts.
When to seek professional help for anxiety symptoms
While self-help coping strategies for anxiety can be very effective, if your worries, fears, or anxiety attacks have become so great that they’re causing extreme distress or disrupting your daily routine, it’s important to seek professional help.
If you’re experiencing a lot of physical anxiety symptoms, you should start by getting a medical checkup. Your doctor can check to make sure that your anxiety isn’t caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, hypoglycemia, or asthma. Since certain drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, your doctor will also want to know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and recreational drugs you’re taking.
If your physician rules out a medical cause, the next step is to consult with a therapist who has experience treating anxiety disorders. The therapist will work with you to determine the cause and type of your anxiety disorder and devise a course of treatment.
Treatment for anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders respond very well to therapy—and often in a relatively short amount of time. The specific treatment approach depends on the type of anxiety disorder and its severity. But in general, most anxiety disorders are treated with therapy, medication, or some combination of the two. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are types of behavioral therapy, meaning they focus on behavior rather than on underlying psychological conflicts or issues from the past. They can help with issues such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety, and phobias.
Cognitive-behavior therapy helps you identify and challenge the negative thinking patterns and irrational beliefs that fuel your anxiety.
Exposure therapy encourages you to confront your fears and anxieties in a safe, controlled environment. Through gradual exposure to the feared object or situation, either in your imagination or in reality, you gain a greater sense of control. As you face your fear without being harmed, your anxiety will diminish.
Medication for anxiety disorders
If you have anxiety that’s severe enough to interfere with your ability to function, medication may help relieve some anxiety symptoms. However, anxiety medications can be habit forming and cause unwanted or even dangerous side effects, so be sure to research your options carefully. Many people use anti-anxiety medication when therapy, exercise, or self-help strategies would work just as well or better—minus the side effects and safety concerns. It’s important to weigh the benefits and risks of anxiety medication so you can make an informed decision.
The Reasons Behind Anxiety in Women
Anxiety is a much more common problem for women than it is for men. While this may be due in part to cultural and societal traditions and expectations, it is also due to the chemicals that make up our bodies and the myriad of physical changes that occur in women’s bodies and not in men’s.
This article will cover the primary causes of anxiety in women, as well as what women can do to minimize anxiety in their lives.
Chemical Imbalances That Cause Anxiety
There may be biological reasons that women may be more prone to anxiety than men. However, it should be noted that even though anxiety may be partially biological, there is evidence that it can be changed and altered with the right anxiety reduction techniques.
Our bodies produce natural chemicals known as “neurotransmitters.” Neurotransmitters come in two general types: they can be either the “inhibitory” type, which promotes happiness and calm, or the “excitatory” type, which promotes (as you may have guessed) excitement, fear reactions, and stress.
Serotonin is an example of the inhibitory type of neurotransmitter, and it plays a role in proper mood and stress coping. Some studies have shown that men naturally have higher levels of serotonin in their bodies than women do. It has been hypothesized that the lower levels of serotonin in women’s bodies make them more alert and aware of environmental changes (whether physical or emotional), allowing them to avoid immediate and also potential physical threats. On the other hand, the higher levels of serotonin in men allow them to conserve their physical and emotional energy for reacting combatively to evident physical threats. Regardless, the end result could be anxiety as a result of low levels of serotonin. This hasn’t necessarily been confirmed in research, but it is a fascinating theory.
Adrenaline and epinephrine are also two examples of the excitatory type of neurotransmitter. If these neurotransmitters are regularly triggered over an extended period, they can change the physical structure of the brain by causing it to create more receptors for the excess excitatory neurotransmitters and decrease its serotonin and dopamine (or “happy chemical”) receptors because it doesn’t have as many of them to process. This type of chemical imbalance causes the oversensitivity to environmental and emotional stimuli that is the main characteristic of anxiety.
So both of these may lead to the development of anxiety. However, it should also be noted you’re your body is affected by your mind and your experiences as well. Long term issues may result in changes to your chemical balance, thus creating more anxiety. Possible causes of chemical imbalances in women include:
- Work-Related Stress While a common cause of stress for anyone, a woman’s workplace stress is more likely than a man’s to include harassment and discrimination. Sexual harassment in the workplace can be difficult to combat despite the fact that it is illegal due to concerns regarding public embarrassment, or threats of being fired from the job. Discrimination is similarly stressful and hard to combat, as it can be subtle and usually easy for the perpetrators to disguise or deny.
- Domestic Responsibility Overload Women are often expected to do the work of two or more people in a household. Many men have been culturally trained or brought up to expect that women are primarily responsible for performing domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and tending to children. This can be especially stressful when a woman is also working outside of the home.
- Sexist Attitudes from Family or Significant Others Apart from being assigned extra domestic responsibilities, women are also often put under pressure from loved ones to behave in certain ways and pursue certain goals (such as getting married, having children, or working towards jobs they deem “appropriate” for a woman rather than others, which could mean lower paying work that doesn’t intimidate a spouse, or a more “conservative” or “feminine” job than she wants to do). This type of pressure from people that a woman has emotional connections to is often highly stressful for her, because maintaining positive relations with family and significant others is a source of stability and happiness that is being threatened.
Note that while these are often about male attitudes towards women and what it’s like to be a woman in today’s society, that doesn’t mean that anxiety cannot also be the result of day to day stresses. In fact, it’s entirely possible that women may experience more stress from things like:
- Stressful friendships and trouble relating to others.
- Monthly hormonal changes and diet.
- Self-esteem and more.
The truth is that any long term stress of any kind may lead to the development of anxiety, and women – for reasons that aren’t always clear – appear to be more prone to some of these stressors. Also, both men and women are often subjected to environments that can create anxiety, so your own anxiety may be unrelated to gender altogether.
Stress and the Female Fight or Flight Response
Another theory has to do with the female reaction in the fight or flight response. During the fight or flight response, “excitatory” chemicals are produced in response to stress as part of the fight or flight response wired into al humans. However, it works slightly differently in women than it does in men, further predisposing women to anxiety.
Fight or flight in both men and women begins in a region of the brain known as the amygdala, or amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped neuron clusters near the brain’s base that regulate the storage of long-term memories of events based on the strength of the emotional reactions that accompanied them.
In men, the right amygdala is more responsive to stress and is associated with taking action. In women, as well as in people who suffer from anxiety and depression, the left side is more responsive and is associated more with thought and the recollection of details. Women, therefore, are more likely to dwell on stressful stimuli and vividly remember the details of stressful events in their lives than men.
Hormonal Imbalances that Cause Stress
Over the course of a woman’s life, she will find that her hormones are thrown off balance fairly often, with physical and emotional side effects of varying degrees of severity.
Hormonal imbalances have many symptoms which cause stress in and of themselves (such as irregular hair growth patterns, cramps, hot flashes and difficulty sleeping). When these symptoms persist, they (like any other persistent and stressful aspect of life) can result in the types of chemical imbalances that lead to anxiety disorders.
The endocrine gland, where hormones are produced, is affected by a variety of events in a woman’s life. Most of these events result in an increase in estrogen production, except menopause which decreases the levels of both sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in the body. The natural causes of hormone imbalances in a woman’s life include:
- The menstrual cycle
- Thyroid dysfunction
In addition to natural causes, women are also more threatened by various unnatural substances that can cause hormonal malfunctions (though they can be dangerous for both men and women). Unnatural causes of hormonal imbalances in women include:
- Birth control pills
- Overuse of cosmetics
- Consumption of non-organic animal products
With all of these different issues, it may seem like anxiety for women is unavoidable. However, there are ways to prevent worsening both hormonal and chemical imbalances and to avoid some causes of chemical imbalances entirely.
Ways to Stay Chemically and Hormonally Balanced
Hormonal differences between men and women are harder to control. If your hormones are wildly out of balance, you may need to talk to your doctor. Interestingly, a big part of reducing your anxiety simply comes from reducing some of your stress. So if you are feeling a little off-balance, these tips may help you restore your mind and body to their former selves by minimizing the levels of anxiety and stress you encounter on a daily basis.
- Share Chores Don’t do everything yourself. Some women internalize the idea that any extra work around the house is their responsibility after a long day of work. It is important to acknowledge your own need for rest and to respectfully and patiently explain to the people sharing your living space that in the interest of fairness, the extra work needs to be divided equally (and will get done much faster that way).
- Keep Controlling People Out of Your Life If you are not able to live peaceably due to pressure from your significant other or a family member, it is important to protect yourself by respectfully explaining that you need your space and your autonomy. If talking to them about it is too stressful for you, it is your responsibility to ask for help, either from another family member, a counselor, or social worker.
- Be True to Yourself Conforming to another person’s idea of how or who you should be can be damaging to your self-confidence and can distance you from other people, who would otherwise provide emotional support. Avoid the people who might be negatively provoked by your choices and cause further stress, or, if this is impossible, request an intervention by people you know and trust, or by a professional.
- Get Enough Sleep Not sleeping, or sleeping irregularly, can make any symptoms of anxiety you already have even worse. Anxiety takes a physical and mental toll on your energy levels while you are awake, which makes it especially important for you to take as much time to sleep and recharge as you can. To do this, try setting a regular time to be in bed by to help train your brain to shut down for sleep when you want it to. Also, eat light dinners so that digestion doesn’t interrupt your sleep, and avoid caffeinated beverages such as soda in the evenings.
- Eat a Balanced Diet- Your diet can have a big impact on how you feel emotionally and physically, particularly when you are experiencing anxiety on a regular basis. As already mentioned, anxiety is a drain on your energy stores, which need to be replenished by the nutrients in food to avoid a physical or emotional collapse.
- Talk to Someone Whether it’s a close friend, a family member you trust, or a counselor or therapist, it is good to get your thoughts and feelings out in the open. Talking about the anxiety you feel may help you to understand problems that seem to complex to handle, and getting feedback from others can help you figure out how to deal with it in healthy ways rather than letting it spiral into disorders and depression.
Keeping your life in balance isn’t easy for anyone, but women especially have a lot of stress to deal with, whether it’s due to mental predisposition, natural life events, unnatural substances designed for female use or societal pressure. If you’re a woman, surrounding yourself with people who will treat you with kindness and respect and treating yourself the same way are the best things you can do to keep your anxiety under your control. You can then follow those up with exercises that improve mental health, and you’ll be able to battle your anxiety away.
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What Is Anxiety?
Liam had always looked out for his younger brother Sam. But whenever Sam took the late bus after soccer practice, Liam worried about him so much he couldn’t concentrate on his homework. Liam watched the clock, worrying and imagining the worst — picturing bus accidents and fearing, for no particular reason, that Sam might be injured or dead. Only when Sam arrived home safe could Liam finally relax.
It’s completely normal to worry when things get hectic and complicated. But if worries become overwhelming, you may feel that they’re running your life. If you spend an excessive amount of time feeling worried or nervous, or you have difficulty sleeping because of your anxiety, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. They may be symptoms of an anxiety problem or disorder.
Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves mind and body. It serves an important basic survival function: Anxiety is an alarm system that is activated whenever a person perceives danger or threat.
When the body and mind react to danger or threat, a person feels physical sensations of anxiety — things like a faster heartbeat and breathing, tense muscles, sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, and trembling hands or legs. These sensations are part of the body’s fight-flight response. They are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepare the body to make a quick getaway from danger. They can be mild or extreme.
The fight-flight response happens instantly when a person senses a threat. It takes a few seconds longer for the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) to process the situation and evaluate whether the threat is real, and if so, how to handle it. If the cortex sends the all-clear signal, the fight-flight response is deactivated and the nervous system can relax.
If the mind reasons that a threat might last, feelings of anxiety might linger, keeping the person alert. Physical sensations such as rapid, shallow breathing; a pounding heart; tense muscles; and sweaty palms might continue, too.
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. Anxiety can be described as a sense of uneasiness, nervousness, worry, fear, or dread of what’s about to happen or what might happen. While fear is the emotion we feel in the presence of threat, anxiety is a sense of anticipated danger, trouble, or threat.
Feelings of anxiety can be mild or intense (or anywhere in between), depending on the person and the situation. Mild anxiety can feel like a sense of uneasiness or nervousness. More intense anxiety can feel like fear, dread, or panic. Worrying and feelings of tension and stress are forms of anxiety. So are stage fright and the shyness that can come with meeting new people.
It’s natural for new, unfamiliar, or challenging situations to prompt feelings of anxiety or nervousness. Facing an important test, a big date, or a major class presentation can trigger normal anxiety. Although these situations don’t actually threaten a person’s safety, they can cause someone to feel “threatened” by potential embarrassment, worry about making a mistake, fitting in, stumbling over words, being accepted or rejected, or losing pride. Physical sensations — such as a pounding heart, sweaty hands, or a nervous stomach — can be part of normal anxiety, too.
Because anxiety makes a person alert, focused, and ready to head off potential problems, a little anxiety can help us do our best in situations that involve performance. But anxiety that’s too strong can interfere with doing our best. Too much anxiety can cause people to feel overwhelmed, tongue-tied, or unable to do what they need to do.
Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that involve excessive amounts of anxiety, fear, nervousness, worry, or dread. Anxiety that is too constant or too intense can cause a person to feel preoccupied, distracted, tense, and always on alert.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. They affect people of all ages — adults, children, and teens. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms. They all have one thing in common, though: Anxiety occurs too often, is too strong, is out of proportion to the present situation, and affects a person’s daily life and happiness.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly, or they can build gradually and linger until a person begins to realize that something is wrong. Sometimes anxiety creates a sense of doom and foreboding that seems to come out of nowhere. It’s common for those with an anxiety disorder to not know what’s causing the emotions, worries, and sensations they have.
Different anxiety disorders are named to reflect their specific symptoms.
- Generalized anxiety. With this common anxiety disorder, a person worries excessively about many things. Someone with generalized anxiety may worry excessively about school, the health or safety of family members, and the future. They may always think of the worst that could happen.
Along with the worry and dread, people with generalized anxiety have physical symptoms, such as chest pain, headache, tiredness, tight muscles, stomachaches, or vomiting. Generalized anxiety can lead a person to miss school or avoid social activities. With generalized anxiety, worries can feel like a burden, making life feel overwhelming or out of control.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). For a person with OCD, anxiety takes the form of obsessions (bad thoughts) and compulsions (actions that try to relieve anxiety).
- Phobias. These are intense fears of specific situations or things that are not actually dangerous, such as heights, dogs, or flying in an airplane. Phobias usually cause people to avoid the things they are afraid of.
- Social phobia (social anxiety). This intense anxiety is triggered by social situations or speaking in front of others. An extreme form called selective mutism causes some kids and teens to be too fearful to talk at all in certain situations.
- Panic attacks. These episodes of anxiety can occur for no apparent reason. With a panic attack, a person has sudden and intense physical symptoms that can include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, or tingling feelings causes by overactivity of the body’s normal fear response. Agoraphobia is an intense fear of panic attacks that causes a person to avoid going anywhere a panic attack could possibly occur.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This type of anxiety disorder results from a traumatic or terrifying past experience. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, or constant fear after the fact.
How Anxiety Disorders Affect People
For people dealing with anxiety disorders, symptoms can feel strange and confusing at first. For some, the physical sensations can be strong and upsetting. For others, feelings of doom or fear that can happen for no apparent reason can make them feel scared, unprotected, and on guard. Constant worries can make a person feel overwhelmed by every little thing. All this can affect someone’s concentration, confidence, sleep, appetite, and outlook.
People with anxiety disorders might avoid talking about their worries, thinking that others might not understand. They may fear being unfairly judged, or considered weak or scared. Although anxiety disorders are common, people who have them may feel misunderstood or alone.
Some people with anxiety disorders might blame themselves. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed, or mistakenly think that anxiety is a weakness or a personal failing. Anxiety can keep people from going places or doing things they enjoy.
The good news is, doctors today understand anxiety disorders better than ever before and, with treatment, a person can feel better.
What Causes Anxiety Disorders?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. Several things seem to play a role, including genetics, brain biochemistry, an overactive fight-flight response, stressful life circumstances, and learned behavior.
Someone with a family member who has an anxiety disorder has a greater chance of developing one, too. This may be related to genes that can affect brain chemistry and the regulation of chemicals called neurotransmitters. But not everyone with a family member who has an anxiety disorder will develop problems with anxiety.
Things that happen in a person’s life can also set the stage for anxiety disorders. Frightening traumatic events that can lead to PTSD are a good example.
Growing up in a family where others are fearful or anxious can “teach” a child to view the world as a dangerous place. Likewise, someone who grows up in an environment that is actually dangerous (if there is violence in the family or community, for example) may learn to be fearful or expect the worst.
Although everyone experiences normal anxiety in certain situations, most people — even those who experience traumatic situations — don’t develop anxiety disorders. And people who develop anxiety disorders can get relief with proper treatment and care. They can learn ways to manage anxiety and to feel more relaxed and at peace.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?
Anxiety disorders can be treated by mental health professionals, or therapists. A therapist can look at the symptoms someone is dealing with, diagnose the specific anxiety disorder, and create a plan to help the person get relief.
A particular type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is often used. In CBT, a person learns new ways to think and act in situations that can cause anxiety, and to manage and deal with stress. The therapist provides support and guidance and teaches new coping skills, such as relaxation techniques or breathing exercises. Sometimes, but not always, medication is used as part of the treatment for anxiety.
What to Do
Getting the problem treated can help a person feel like himself or herself again — relaxed and ready for the good things in life. Someone who might be dealing with an anxiety disorder should:
- Tell a parent or other adult about physical sensations, worries, or fears. Because anxiety disorders don’t go away unless they are treated, it’s important to tell someone who can help. If a parent doesn’t seem to understand right away, talk to a school counselor, religious leader, or other trusted adult.
- Get a checkup. See a doctor to make sure there are no physical conditions that could be causing symptoms.
- Work with a mental health professional. Ask a doctor, nurse, or school counselor for a referral to someone who treats anxiety problems. Finding out what’s causing the symptoms can be a great relief.
- Get regular exercise, good nutrition, and sleep. These provide your body and brain with the right fuel and time to recharge.
Try to stay patient and positive. It can take time to feel better, and courage to face fears. But letting go of worry allows space for more happiness and fun.
Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD Date reviewed: March 2014