Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders


Story at-a-glance

  • When it comes to diagnosing anxiety, the patient’s medical and personal history should be determined first
  • People who have anxiety disorders, depression or bipolar disorder have a higher risk for smoking, alcoholism and other forms of addiction that may be considered a form of self-medication

Although there are various types of anxiety disorders, the primary symptoms that appear on patients are almost always the same. Patients who might have anxiety disorders typically experience these indicators:1

Emotional and BehavioralPhysical

Extreme fear or worry about the past or future

Inability in thinking straight, concentrating or remembering things

Feelings that the mind is racing



Feeling “on-the-edge”

Inability to sleep or experiencing bad sleeping periods

Heart pounding

Tightening of the chest or chest pain


Feeling hot

Fast and shallow breathing that can lead to shortness of breath




Tingling sensations


Difficulty swallowing

Stomach pain

Dry mouth

How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed?

Consulting a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or mental health specialist (not a physician) is vital if you or someone you know is showing signs of an anxiety disorder.2

When it comes to diagnosing anxiety, the patient’s medical and personal history should be determined first. This will be followed by a physical examination and, if needed, laboratory tests.

Although there is no particular laboratory test specifically for anxiety disorders, these tests can provide some information about a disease that either causes physical illness or anxiety symptoms in a patient.3

Aside from the aforementioned symptoms, there are also specific symptoms that a mental health professional looks for in a patient in order to determine the type of disorder that he or she has: 4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11

General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Excessive worrying and anxiety about several events or activities on more days than not for at least six months

Finding it difficult to control worrying

Having at least three of these symptoms on more days than not in the last six months: restlessness, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping and/or difficulty concentrating

Presence of the symptoms more often than not for six months; they usually interfere with daily schedules, especially when it comes to work or school

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Diagnostic criteria for OCD as stated in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)12

The DSM-5 focuses on determining if a patient has both obsessions and compulsions that significantly impact daily routines, and of which the patient is unaware that these behaviors are excessive or unreasonable

Panic Disorder

Frequent and unexpected panic attacks

Ongoing worry about having another panic attack that lasts for one month or more

Continued fear of the consequences of a panic attack

Behavior changes to prevent situations that may trigger a panic attack

Attacks that aren’t caused by drugs or other substances, medical or mental health conditions


Intense fear or anxiety triggered by an object or situation

Immediate anxiety response when there is a confrontation of the source of fear

Fear or anxiety that is irrational or out of proportion to the risk of the object or situation

Avoidance of objects or situations that trigger fear or endurance of the situations but with extreme distress

Significant problems toward various social activities, work or other areas of life

Persistent phobia and avoidance that lasts for six months or more

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Structured interviews such as:

Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS)

Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID)

Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule-Revised (AIDS)


Structured Interview for PTSD (SI-PTSD)

PTSD Symptom Scale Interview (PSS-I)

Self-report questionnaires such as:

PTSD Checklist

Impacts of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R)

Keane PTSD Scale of the MMPI-2

Mississippi Scale for Combat Related PTSD and the Mississippi Scale for Civilians

Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale (PDS)

Penn Inventory for Posttraumatic Stress

Los Angeles Symptom Checklist (LASC)

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, SAD typically occurs in children

Potential SAD patients must exhibit three of these symptoms for at least four weeks:

Extreme distress from either anticipating or being away from home, or separated from a parent or loved one

Extreme worry about losing or possible harm toward a loved one

Intense worry about getting lost, being kidnapped or separated from loved ones

Frequent refusal to go to school or sleep away from home

Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches or vomiting that manifest when there is probable separation from loved ones

Social Anxiety Disorder

Persistent fear of (lasts for six months or more) or intense anxiety about social situations wherein a patient believes that he or she may be scrutinized or act in a manner that’s embarrassing or humiliating

Avoidance of anxiety-producing social situations or enduring them with intense fear or anxiety

Excessive anxiety that is out of proportion to the situation

Anxiety or stress that disturbs daily living

Anxiety or stress that disturbs daily living

Complications Among Patients With Anxiety Disorders

Apart from damaging the quality of life of a patient, there are complications that could arise from anxiety disorders, making the situation even more devastating. These include:13

Depression: This mental illness is common among people with an anxiety disorder and is actually difficult to distinguish from anxiety. Similar symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, insomnia and impaired concentration are both seen in these illnesses.

Bipolar disorder: The symptoms of this mental illness are similar to that of panic disorder. Anxiety can actually exacerbate bipolar disorder.

Substance abuse: People who have anxiety disorders, depression or bipolar disorder have a higher risk for smoking, alcoholism and other forms of addiction that may be considered a form of self-medication. On the other hand, the risk for opioid pill addiction is higher for PTSD patients since the disease can be accompanied by bouts of pain.

Eating disorders: These are common in people with anxiety disorders, and vice-versa. However, there is no definite proof that anxiety disorders (particularly OCD) can trigger eating disorders, increase a person’s risk for them or share common biologic causes.

Higher risk for suicide: An increased probability of suicidal thoughts was reported among patients with panic disorders and PTSD, while having social phobias and OCD was said to potentially raise a patient’s risk for suicide. This risk is significantly increased if a person has both an anxiety and mood disorder.


Anxiety: Introduction

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety vs Panic Attacks

Anxiety in Children

Anxiety During Pregnancy

Anxiety Duration

Anxiety Causes

Anxiety Types

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety Treatment

Anxiety Prevention

Anxiety Diet

Anxiety Support Groups

Anxiety FAQ


Anxiety Types


Anxiety Treatment

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 “All About Anxiety Disorders,” Reach Out, April 27, 2016
  • 2, 3, 4 Crosta, “What Causes Anxiety?” Medical News Today, August 3, 2015
  • 5 Mayo Clinic Staff, “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Diagnosis,” Mayo Clinic
  • 6 Gluck, “OCD Diagnosis: OCD Criteria and Characteristics in DSM 5,” Healthy Place, October 22, 2015
  • 7 Mayo Clinic Staff, “Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder Tests and Diagnosis,” Mayo Clinic, May 19, 2015
  • 8 Mayo Clinic Staff, “Phobias Test and Diagnosis,” Mayo Clinic, February 8, 2014
  • 9 “How Is PTSD Measured?” PTSD: National Center for PTSD
  • 10, 13 Simon, Zieve, A.D.A.M. Inc., “Anxiety Disorders,” University of Maryland Medical Center, March 11, 2013
  • 11 Mayo Clinic Staff, “Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) Tests and Diagnosis,” Mayo Clinic, April 20, 2016
  • 12 “DSM-5,” American Psychiatric Association