Anxiety disorders: symptoms and causes (2023)

general description

Experiencing occasional anxiety attacks is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders often have intense, excessive, and persistent worries and fears in everyday situations. Anxiety disorders often involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that peak within minutes (panic attacks).

These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger, and can be prolonged. You may want to avoid places or situations to avoid these feelings. Symptoms can begin in childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood.

Examples of anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety is the result of a medical condition that needs to be treated.

Whatever form of anxiety you have, treatment can help.


Common signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom.
  • Have an elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • sweat
  • Tremble
  • Feel weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than the issue at hand
  • have trouble sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
  • Difficulty controlling worry
  • Feeling the need to avoid things that trigger anxiety.

There are different types of anxiety disorders:

  • Agoraphobia(ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you feel anxious and often avoid places or situations that can make you panic and feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.
  • Anxiety disorder due to illnessincludes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic caused directly by a physical health problem.
  • generalized anxiety disorderInvolves persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events, including common and routine problems. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstances, difficult to control, and affects how you feel physically. It often co-occurs with other anxiety or depressive disorders.
  • Panic syndromeIt involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have a feeling of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a pounding, pounding, or pounding heart. These panic attacks can make you worry about them happening again or avoid situations where they happened.
  • selective mutenessit is a consistent failure by children to speak up in certain situations, such as at school, even when they can do so in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work, and social functioning.
  • separation anxiety disorderIt is a childhood disorder characterized by excessive anxiety due to the child's developmental level and is related to separation from parents or others who perform parental functions.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)It involves high levels of fear, anxiety, and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of shame, shyness, and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • specific phobiasYou are characterized by great anxiety when faced with a particular object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias cause panic attacks in some people.
  • substance-induced anxiety disorderIt is characterized by severe anxiety or panic symptoms that are the direct result of substance abuse, medication use, exposure to a toxic substance, or drug withdrawal.
  • Other Specified Anxiety Disorder and Unspecified Anxiety Disorderare terms for fear or phobias that do not meet precise criteria for other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.

When to the doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You feel like you are worrying too much and it is affecting your work, your relationships, or other parts of your life.
  • Your fear, worry or anxiety bothers you and is difficult to control.
  • You feel depressed, have problems with alcohol or drug use, or other mental health problems along with anxiety.
  • You think your anxiety is related to a physical health problem
  • have suicidal thoughts or behavior; If this is the case, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Your worries may not go away on their own and could get worse over time if you don't seek help. See your doctor or a psychologist before your anxiety worsens. It's easier to treat if you get help early.

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The causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events seem to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits may also play a role.

medical causes

For some people, anxiety may be related to an underlying health issue. In some cases, signs and symptoms of anxiety are the first signs of a general illness. If your doctor suspects your anxiety might have a medical cause, he or she may order tests to look for signs of a problem.

Examples of medical problems that may be related to anxiety include:

  • heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems such as hyperthyroidism
  • Breathing disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
  • substance abuse or withdrawal
  • Withdrawal from alcohol, anxiolytics (benzodiazepines), or other medications
  • Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones

Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications.

Your anxiety could be due to an underlying medical condition if:

  • You do not have a blood relative (eg, parent or sibling) with an anxiety disorder.
  • You didn't have an anxiety disorder as a child.
  • You don't avoid certain things or situations because of fear.
  • You have a sudden onset of anxiety that seems unrelated to life events and you have no history of anxiety.

risk factors

These factors can increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma.Children who have experienced abuse, trauma, or witnessed traumatic events are at increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Adults who experience a traumatic event can also develop anxiety disorders.
  • disease stress.A serious health problem or illness can cause great concern about things like your treatment and your future.
  • accumulation of stress.A major event or an accumulation of small stressful life situations can trigger excessive anxiety, for example a death in the family, stress at work or constant worries about finances.
  • Personality.People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others.
  • Other mental disorders.People with other mental disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
  • Have blood relatives with an anxiety disorder.Anxiety disorders can run in families.
  • drugs or alcohol.Drug or alcohol use, abuse, or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.


An anxiety disorder gives you more than just worries. It can also lead to or worsen other physical and mental illnesses, such as

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental disorders
  • substance abuse
  • sleep disorders (insomnia)
  • digestive or bowel problems
  • headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Dysfunctions at school or at work.
  • bad quality of life
  • Suicide


There's no way to predict with certainty what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but there are steps you can take to lessen the impact of symptoms when you're feeling anxious:

  • Seek help soon.Anxiety, like many other mental illnesses, can be harder to treat if you wait.
  • stay activeParticipate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good. Enjoy social interaction and loving relationships that can ease your worries.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or drugs.Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you are dependent on any of these substances, quitting smoking can make you anxious. If you can't quit smoking on your own, see your doctor or find a support group to help.

By the staff of the Mayo Clinic

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