Anxiety Disorders

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Anxiety is a state of dread, tension and unease. It’s a normal response to stress or uncertain situations. You may have an anxiety disorder if:

  • You feel anxious for long periods of time or at intense levels
  • Your anxiety occurs without an external threat 
  • Your anxiety is excessive or unreasonable for the situation or threat
  • Your anxiety negatively affects how you function during the day

The most common types of anxiety disorders are:

Anxiety may occur with other conditions, such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse and depression.


Psychological symptoms may include:

  • Worry or dread
  • Obsessive or intrusive thoughts
  • Sense of imminent danger or catastrophe
  • Fear or panic
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Uncertainty
  • Trouble concentrating

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating, especially your palms
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing or blushing
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shaking
  • Choking sensation
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling of "butterflies" in the stomach
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Tingling sensations
  • Nail biting or other habitual behavior


Effective treatment usually involves a combination of interventions.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Get sufficient rest and sleep
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeinated beverages
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Avoid using drugs
  • Reduce exposure to stressful environments
  • Exercise regularly

Relaxation Techniques

  • Practice deep breathing and meditation
  • Learn progressive muscle relaxation
  • Work with a massage therapist
  • Engage in pleasurable activities

Social Support

  • Have a strong support system of family and friends
  • Seek therapy to improve your coping skills
  • Join a support group


Psychotherapy addresses thoughts, feelings and behaviors that play a role in anxiety. It helps you work through traumas and conflicts.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify negative thought patterns and behaviors. Over time, you can learn to retrain your thinking. This will help you respond better to stress and anxiety.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.