Anxiety Signs & Symptoms

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides anxiety disorder treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life.

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Learn about anxiety disorders

Many cases of substance use disorders start with the misuse of alcohol or another drug for purposes of self-medication from psychological pain that is associated with an anxiety disorder. In the absence of effective professional treatment, people who experience debilitating fear, anxiety, or worry may attempt to ease these emotions or numb themselves by abusing alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs. In addition to failing to solve these symptoms, substance abuse can exacerbate the underlying disorder, as well as put the individual at risk for becoming chemically dependent.

Anxiety disorders are a category of mental health issues that involve feelings of excessive worry and/or fear, as well as related behavioral disturbances, such as escape or avoidant behaviors. The various types of anxiety disorders are differentiated primarily by the objects or situations that induce these negative responses. Many types of anxiety disorders first develop during childhood, but these disorders can affect children, adolescents, and adults.

The most common forms of anxiety disorders include the following:

Generalized anxiety disorder: As its name suggests, this form of anxiety disorder involves anxiety, or apprehensive expectation, about a variety of events and activities. People who have generalized anxiety disorder will experience a level of worry that is disproportionate to the actual event, which, in many cases, may be a commonplace occurrence like maintaining one’s health and finances, being on time for an appointment, or meeting one’s occupational responsibilities. While almost everyone worries about such events, individuals who have generalized anxiety disorder will experience pervasive and pronounced symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, and sleep disturbances, that interfere with their ability to function.

Panic disorder: This form of anxiety disorder is characterized by recurrent abrupt surges of intense fear and/or intense discomfort, which are referred to as panic attacks. During a panic attack, which typically peaks within minutes of onset, individuals may experience heart palpitations, excessive perspiration, dizziness, a sensation of choking, derealization, depersonalization, and other profoundly distressing symptoms. In addition to the panic attacks, people with panic disorder will also experience persistent concerns about future attacks and/or make maladaptive changes in an effort to avoid future attacks. For a diagnosis of panic disorder, a person must experience multiple unexpected panic attacks, meaning experiences that are not brought about by an obvious cue or trigger.

Specific phobia: This type of anxiety disorder involves extreme and disproportional fear or anxiety related to a specific situation or object. Examples of specific phobia include fear of flying, fear of heights, and fear of needles, receiving an injection, or seeing blood. People who have specific phobia will either actively avoid the situation or object that is the focus of their disorder or, when incapable of avoidance, they will experience significant distress during the situation or when in proximity to the object.

Separation anxiety disorder: The main feature of separation anxiety disorder is extreme fear or worry about being separated from home or from attachment figures such as parents, siblings, spouse, or other significant individuals. Individuals who develop separation anxiety disorder may worry excessively about the health or potential death of an attachment figure, especially when separated from this person. They may also have extreme fear about being lost, kidnapped, or otherwise permanently separated from their attachment figure.

Social anxiety disorder: Also often referred to as social phobia, this type of anxiety disorder involves marked anxiety or fear related to one or more social situations during which the individual may be exposed to scrutiny by others. Individuals who have social anxiety disorder will worry that they will be judged negatively. For example, they have profound fear that when they are participating in social interactions, others will deem them to be stupid, weak, boring, or otherwise unlikable. Extreme fear of offending or being rejected may also arise in individuals who have social anxiety disorder.

Agoraphobia: This disorder is characterized by intense disproportionate fear or anxiety that is brought about by experiencing or anticipating two or more of the following situations: using public transportation, being in open spaces such as in a parking lot or on a bridge, being in enclosed spaces such as in a store or theater, standing in line or being part of a crowd, or being alone outside one’s home. People who develop agoraphobia often worry that an inescapable horrible event may occur in the situations that they fear, and that they will be incapable of getting help when they experience panic-like symptoms or have other incapacitating or embarrassing reactions. Severe forms of agoraphobia may render sufferers incapable of venturing outside their homes.


Anxiety disorder statistics

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults in the United States every year, or about 18% of those aged 18 and above.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, reports the following 12-month prevalence rates for specific anxiety disorders in the U.S.:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: 2.9% among adults
  • Panic disorder: 2% to 3% among adults and adolescents
  • Specific phobia: 7% to 9% among the general population; 3% to 5% among older adults
  • Separation anxiety disorder: 0.9% to 1.0% among adults
  • Social anxiety disorder: 7% among the general population; 2% to 5% among older adults
  • Agoraphobia: 1.7% among adults and adolescents; 0.4% among adults ages 65 and above

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety disorders

The development of an anxiety disorder may be influenced by a multitude of factors. The following are examples of genetic and environmental influences on the development of several anxiety disorders:

Genetic: People with a parent or sibling who experienced social anxiety disorder are two to six times more likely than members of the general population to also develop this disorder. Individuals whose parents experienced an anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder are at an increased risk for developing panic disorder. One-third of the risk for developing generalized anxiety disorder has been determined to be genetic. A study involving twins indicated that the heritability of separation anxiety disorders is 73%.

Environmental: Life stresses such as serious illness or death of a relative, parental divorce, being abused as a child, and becoming a parent can be environmental influences on the development of an anxiety disorder. Moving to a new community, school, or nation can trigger separation anxiety disorder. A negative or traumatic experience involving a specific object or event may precipitate the development of specific phobia.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Family history of other forms of mental illness
  • Suffering from a prior anxiety disorder
  • Maltreatment and adversity during childhood
  • Sexual abuse
  • Parental overprotection and/or intrusiveness
  • Behavioral inhibition
  • Negative affectivity (neuroticism)
  • Anxiety sensitivity
  • Smoking

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder will depend upon a variety of factors, including the type of the disorder, the presence of any co-occurring disorders, and the individual’s personal history. The following are among the common signs of various types of anxiety disorders:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoiding certain events, situations, or people
  • Restlessness and fidgeting
  • Spending an excessive amount of time on tasks
  • Continual need for reassurance and approval
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Resisting or refusing to leave the house
  • Difficulty making or keeping friends

Physical symptoms:

  • Racing heart rate
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Sensation of being choked
  • Insomnia
  • Diminished appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Inescapable sense of dread
  • Memory problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Impaired ability to make decisions
  • Excessive fear and/or worry
  • Nightmares

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Inability to relax
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization


Effects of anxiety disorders

In the absence of effective professional intervention, anxiety disorders can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, including, but hardly limited to, the following:

  • Inability to establish or maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Family discord
  • Isolation or ostracization
  • Failure to meet personal responsibilities
  • Diminished performance at work
  • Job loss
  • Unemployment
  • Development of additional mental health disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety disorders and co-occurring disorders

Many individuals who struggle with anxiety disorders also experience co-occurring disorders, such as the following:

  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Personality disorders
  • Communication disorders

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
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