What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness, apprehension, or tension you feel in response to a real or perceived threat. Situations that cause distress or threaten a loss can create a feeling of anxiety. Anxiety reactions can either be mild or so intense that you feel panic. Normally anxiety is temporary but when it lasts a long time, it becomes a significant problem. Extreme anxiety, which may be accompanied by a panic state, may require psychological or psychiatric treatment. Anxiety can be brought on by drugs that affect the nervous system, including alcohol, cocaine, caffeine, certain sedatives, and amphetamines.
Key Links
Anxiety Disorders
(National Institute of Mental Health)
Medications Used to
Treat Anxiety Disorders

What are the symptoms?

Psychological signs and symptoms include:    

  • apprehension
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • fear
  • panic
  • inability to relax
  • impatience
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feelings of imminent danger
  • lack of enjoyment
  • trouble sleeping
  • dry mouth
  • hyperactivity
  • flushing
  • sexual difficulties
  • nausea, vomiting
  • tremors
  • faintness
  • constipation
  • lightheadedness
  • diarrhea
  • tingling
  • choking sensation
  • muscle tension
  • hyperventilation
  • frequent urination
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • sweating, especially in the palms
  • shortness of breath/chest tightness

How is it diagnosed?

Anxiety can be assessed during an interview with a health care provider. Your health care provider will try to identify symptoms associated with anxiety. He or she will ask you about life events, daily activities, and your view of how things are going.

In addition, your provider may examine you and possibly suggest lab tests to rule out a physical problem as the underlying reason for your anxiety. The tests done may include a complete blood count, blood analysis, thyroid function tests, and urine analysis.

How is it treated?

You and your health care provider will discuss your symptoms. Then he or she will try to suggest ways to help you deal with anxiety. The provider will also try to identify circumstances that trigger anxiety. The provider may refer you to a psychotherapist or a mental health counselor, a specialist who can help you learn how to deal with anxiety. Talking with your health care provider or a therapist can be helpful.

If your health care provider suspects your anxiety may be caused by drugs or physical problems, he or she will give you a physical exam and conduct lab tests. The provider may then recommend a treatment. If your anxiety is severe or causing panic, your provider may initially prescribe medication to help you manage the symptoms. These drugs are most effective when used in combination with psychotherapy and stress management techniques.
How can I take care of myself?

Increase your awareness of how anxiety and stress affect you and learn which coping methods work for you. Also, get adequate rest, follow a balanced diet, exercise, and learn to use relaxation techniques. Talk with your health care provider or therapist about managing events in your life that trigger anxiety. In addition, learn to talk with friends and co-workers about the normal stresses of daily life.
What can I do to help prevent anxiety?

Anxiety occurs when life’s demands feel greater than your ability to cope with them. Therefore, prevention means improving your coping skills or modifying the demands and expectations in your life. To prevent anxiety, try these techniques:

  • relaxation techniques such as self-hypnosis and meditation
  • behavioral techniques aimed at improving ways of coping (exercising, eating balanced meals, getting adequate rest)
  • counseling aimed at changing stressful life circumstances
  • broadening and deepening positive relationships by finding group activities that encourage give and take and provide a feeling of support

Knowing how to lessen anxiety can build emotional strength to cope with life events that cause anxiety. To minimize negative stress that can cause anxiety:

  • Exercise for 20 minutes, at least 3 times a week.
  • Change drinking, eating, and sleeping habits:
  • Rest or sleep 6 to 9 hours a day.
  • Eat 3 balanced meals a day.
  • Drink at least 4 glasses of water a day.
  • Reduce coffee and alcohol consumption.

Find improved ways to manage stress:

  • Identify what causes your stress.
  • Modify or eliminate stressors.
  • Develop methods of relaxation like talking with positive-minded people, listening to music, walking, or enjoying hobbies.
  • Learn to use stress management techniques like muscle relaxation exercises, mental imagery, and deep breathing.
  • Use affirming and hopeful thoughts to overcome negative ones, such as telling yourself, “I am doing the best job I can given the circumstances.”
  • Ask for help when the load is too great to handle.
  • Seek professional help for dealing with life events that produce stress, and for developing helpful, effective ways of managing stress.