We all experience anxiety. It is there to protect us from getting hurt and it does this through a
series of mind and body reflexes and reactions known as the fight-or-flight response. Changes in our heartbeat, breathing
and nervous system associated with this response are responsible for a multitude of anxiety symptoms.
The following list is an example of some of the symptoms associated with anxiety. They involve our body, mind and behaviour.
Palpitations (Rapid / strong / irregular heartbeat).
Fast and shallow breathing.
Trembling and shaking.
Legs feel like jelly.
Dry throat and difficulty swallowing.
Dizziness and feeling light-headed.
Tightness across the chest.
Needing the toilet.
Generally feeling 'on-edge'
Physical anxiety symptoms result from the body re-directing resources to the major
muscle groups (legs / arms / chest) to provide them with an energy boost to prepare
us for action (ultimately to fight or flee).
* Our breathing becomes more rapid to get more oxygen for these muscles into the blood.
* Our heartbeat speeds up to get the blood to the muscles quicker.
* Blood is diverted from the brain (making us light-headed and dizzy) and the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
* Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested food in our system so we need to get rid of it quickly - either through the mouth
(feelings of nausea) or the other end (wanting to go to the toilet).
* Other 'energy-wasting ' systems (unnecessary in time of danger) are shut down eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty
* We sweat more to cool down all this energy production.
* The energy boost to the muscles makes them 'jumpy'/ 'jittery'/ 'jelly-like'/ on-edge ready for action.
Other problems associated with physical anxiety symptoms may include: constant headaches, insomnia, and
various muscle pains due to increased and prolonged tension.
Feelings of apprehension and dread.
Being 'mildly scared' for much of the time.
Starting to worry more.
Thoughts about illness.
Anxious behaviour depends on personal beliefs about what is stressful and vary from person to person. However there are some common ones which
Making excuses to avoid going out or doing things.
Hurrying out of places or situations where we feel anxious.
Only going to quiet places where there aren't many people.
Not saying anything in front of others.
Sitting near doors and exits or at the back.
Walking to avoid buses; crossing the street to avoid people.
Having a drink or taking a tablet before doing something
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Over time, increased anxiety can lead to a number of serious problems and disorders if it isn't resolved – problems
that give rise to a whole range of different but related symptoms.
These can involve physical illness, debilitating behavioural problems and self-defeating psychological issues.
Many of the above may be due, in part, to the suppression of the body's immune system by chemicals released into the bloodstream when
anxious. (Please note that any recurring physical symptoms such as pains or function problems (eg. digestion, bowel) need to
be checked out by a medical doctor as they could be the signs of underlying physical disease).
2. Behavioural Problems Associated with Anxiety Disorders
Many of these define the disorder* and include:-
Extreme anxiety and panic around other people*
Having to do things in front of others can cause us to become panic-stricken.
(Social Phobia / social Anxiety Disorder)
Persistant and uncontrollable worrying about people / events / situations.
(Generalized Anxiety Disorder – GAD)
Avoiding things and situations that make us feel afraid.
Obsessions and compulsions*
Here, uncontrollable, often horrible thoughts (obsessions) lead to behaviours we feel compelled to do (compulsions) to try
and relieve the anxiety over the thoughts.
(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD)
Frequent attacks of panic that seem to come 'out of the blue'.
Constantly visiting the doctor. Where every ache and pain becomes associated with being a serious illness.
Often involves feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and the belief that events are beyond our control and everything we try to do will fail.
Fears over losing control and being judged on performance can maintain these problems.
Other problems can include:- Aggression, sleep disorders and eating disorders.
3. Psychological Symptoms Associated with Anxiety Disorders
Many of these symptoms can be present whichever disorder exists – something that hints at the relationship between various
disorders and their cause. They involve such things as:-
Needing to be the strongest, the most beautiful, the cleverest, the most handsome, have the best body, to do the best, to be the best etc.
Constantly making comparisons
Always comparing ourselves with others and coming up short.
Child-like thoughts and behaviours
Desperately needing the love and approval of parents and others.
Common fantasies include: 'one day being rich and famous or great, loved by all'.
This represents attempts to bring form and order to our world, to gain a sense of being in control.
Here, what is done by (happens to) one side of the body must be done by (happen to) the other side. This is also related to order and control.
Ending sentences with questions
We do this to shift the attention away from us to the other person.
Involves constant feelings of 'being picked on' and that 'others are treated better'.
Obsessed with body image
Believing our body, or parts of it, are 'not good enough'.
Standing shoulders down, feet inwards and arms in front of body, trying to be small, almost apologetic for being there.
Persistent negative thoughts and images, constantly looking back for reasons and answers, and feelings of having no control over our mind or body.
A diagnosis of an anxiety disorder often refers to the main set of symptoms. Yet many people experience a whole range of symptoms associated with various anxiety
disorders, adding weight to the belief that these problems are all related.
The symptoms of anxiety problems and disorders can feel too powerful to deal with. But
when we know what is really happening with these problems it is possible to overcome them completely.
The next section gives some insight into what it takes.