The American Psychological Association (APA) has described anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
It is very common for people with anxiety disorders to have recurring or intrusive thoughts and concerns, accompanied by physical changes like sweating, trembling, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat. Individuals with an anxiety disorder also tend to avoid certain situations out of worry.
Anxiety disorders differ from general nervousness and anxiousness and involve excessive fear or anxiety. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has defined anxiety as an anticipation of future concern.
Recent research into anxiety and anxiety-related disorders has shown that up to 33.7% of the population are affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, suggesting that anxiety is fairly common and heterogeneous across large age groups and ethnicities.
In India, research published in the Lancet tells us that 44.9 million people suffer from anxiety disorders. The number is bound to increase as mental health is made more accessible at the grassroots level.
Anxiety can either be long-drawn, with the symptoms fading in and out recurrently and reducing the quality of life (also referred to as generalized anxiety disorder or GAD), or it could be in short sprouts like panic attacks (acute anxiety).
Symptoms experienced vary from the number displayed to the intensity and duration of these symptoms, and every individual is affected differently. While everybody gets anxious, most do not develop long-term problems.
Anxiety has a range of symptoms affecting each aspect of the individual’s life and exposing them to risks of depression if left untreated. Broad categories of anxiety and its effects include:
Behavioural effects of anxiety include a change in eating habits, sleeping patterns, and an increase or decrease in motor tension (like tapping the foot frequently). Individuals with anxiety also tend to avoid situations that might trigger their anxiety.
Emotionally, anxiety often leads to feelings of apprehension, trouble concentrating, and being tense all the time. It also leads to irritability, restlessness, frequent memory blanks, nightmares, obsessions about sensations, and more.
Individuals with anxiety often have thoughts of suspected dangers like dying, which is associated with physical symptoms they experience like headaches (they might think they have a tumour) or chest pain (they might feel they are experiencing a heart attack).
Physically, the individual might experience intense sweating, fatigue, digestive and abdominal pain, digestive issues, a dry mouth, palpitations, shortness of breath, and frequent urination.
Other symptoms that people with generalized anxiety usually complain about include excessive worry, fear, feeling of impending doom, insomnia, nausea and trembling.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th Ed.) has laid down certain symptoms as criteria for the diagnosis of GAD. These include:
If you find yourself constantly worrying about something and that worry seems excessive (cannot be controlled), it might be a symptom of GAD.
Individuals with GAD also often experience restlessness and are always on the ‘edge’. This might involve constantly pacing from one place to another or not being able to sit in one place.
Often, anxiety also leads to fatigue which is the outcome of excessive worry and pacing thoughts. You might feel tired even after performing the simplest of tasks.
It might also get difficult for many to concentrate on particular tasks or work when they are constantly worried about other outcomes or events or activities.
Anxiety also often leads to many somatoform symptoms including muscle ache or soreness without any logical explanation for this ache or soreness.
Individuals with anxiety often find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep because of pacing thoughts and restlessness.
If you are still unsure about your symptoms, take this free anxiety test by Mindworks Counselling that gives you instant results.
Research has pointed to many different causes of anxiety and its effects, without being able to pinpoint one particular cause of anxiety.
These causes include genetics, the brain structure of the individual, life experiences, societal factors, and lifestyle factors.
Anxiety has the tendency to affect the daily functioning of the individual, so much so that their most basic activities are hampered by it.