Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

The word ‘anxiety’ must not be new for you. Not only that you must have heard it but also you have experienced it whenever you started a new phase in your life. However, this type of anxiety does not cause you any trouble neither is this the kind that is affecting 40 million adults in the US every year.

What is Anxiety?

So, what kind of anxiety are we talking about? Everyone experiences the feeling of anxiety at some stage in life, as it is the human body’s natural response to stress.

However, if this feeling intensifies and gets in the way of your routine, you may be suffering from the Anxiety Disorder. A condition that makes you dread day-to-day situations and prolongs for at least six months is anxiety.

It usually comes with depression. In fact, the two are considered as two sides of the same disorder. And just like depression, it hits females twice as it affects males.

Usually, anxiety emerges during one’s childhood. As for the question of genetic disposition, evidence has it that both biology and environment play a role in this disorder. However, having the disorder in genes does not necessitate its development in a person.

How Many People have Anxiety Disorders?

As mentioned earlier, the symptoms of anxiety emerge first during childhood. However, this may not always be the case. Usually, people develop phobias or social anxiety disorder in their childhood while young adults are more likely to develop a generalized anxiety disorder.

The World Health Organization states that around 3.6 percent people across the globe suffer from anxiety disorder. A review of 48 studies published in the journal Brain and Behavior concluded that women were more the sufferer of anxiety as compared to men.

Moreover, it was more prevalent in people under 35 and those living in Western Europe or North America. The review also noted that individuals having chronic health conditions had more chances to develop anxiety.

Anxiety Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety not only involves psychological and behavioral symptoms but physical conditions are also bound to come. Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Intensified muscle tension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Jelly Legs
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Hyperventilation
  • Tingling sensation in hands and feet
  • Tension headaches
  • Having to use the toilet frequently
  • Hot flushes
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased perspiration
  • Shaking
  • Suffocation
  • Palpitations

Whereas, the common psychological symptoms of anxiety include:

Having thoughts that you may die, go mad or lose control, or have a brain tumor, a heart attack or you may be sick

Feeling that

  • People are observing you and noticing your anxiety
  • Things are slowing down or speeding up
  • Detached from your surroundings
  • Wanting to escape the situation/ run away from it
  • Alert and on edge

As for the behavioral symptoms, the major one is avoidance. You must know that avoiding a situation that is making you anxious may give you immediate relief, but it is temporary. Anxiety will return the next time you face the same situation and avoidance will only reinforce it that there is a danger.

Avoidance is not a solution because you will never get to know if there was a real danger or what you thought would happen was actually the reality.

Moreover, people with prolonged anxiety undergo a number of symptoms like:

  • Inability to relax
  • Insomnia
  • Tiredness
  • Unreal expectations of the worst outcomes in different situations
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Trembling
  • Twitching
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Having to use the toilet frequently

Causes of Anxiety

Researchers are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of anxiety. However, both biology and environment are known to be a reason along with brain chemistry. Also, researchers opine that certain brain areas that control fear behave unconventionally in people with anxiety disorders.

The main reasons attributed to anxiety are traumatic childhood, brain chemistry, and genetic dispositions.

Some trauma in childhood impacts fear-controlling brain areas negatively. Unpleasant life events in early life make the said brain areas oversensitive and cause them to send out alarms more frequently. People having such brain chemistry perceive threats in situations where there are not supposed to be any. Their emotional memories overshadow their perception of reality.

Another thing that needs to be mentioned here that changes in the brain structure, especially the areas that regulate anxiety and stress can contribute to the anxiety disorder.

As for the genetic component to anxiety, evidence suggests that it plays a role in determining whether a person is anxious or not.


What are the Five Major Types of Anxiety Disorders?

The five major types of anxiety disorders include:

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

This anxiety disorder involves chronic anxiety and excessive tension and worrying in situations where there is little or nothing to worry about.

2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is also an anxiety disorder and mostly does not need an introduction for many of the protagonists in novels, TV serials, and movies have OCD. However, it may not be as simpler or cute as the TV serials have shown. It involves persistent, undesired thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

The example of repetitive behaviors is checking, cleaning hand washing, or counting. These behaviors are repeated in a hope to make the obsessive thoughts go away. However, these compulsions only provide a temporary belief and result in a feeling that one is not doing them enough, which increases anxiety further.

3. Panic Disorder

This anxiety disorder manifests unprecedented and repeated spells of intense fear along with the physical symptoms like heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or abdominal distress.

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is the anxiety disorder that erupts after the person has experienced or faced a terrifying event, which involved severe physical harms or a threat of such harm. Traumatic events that may cause PTSD include natural or man-related disasters, violent personal assaults, accident, or military combat. PTSD made news after the US soldiers returned from the Vietnam War and still is common among soldiers returning from war-torn Afghanistan.

5. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is characterized by excessive self-consciousness and overwhelming anxiety in normal social situations. It varies from person to person. Some people may experience it in only certain situations like fear of speaking in informal or formal situations, or even drinking or eating in front of others. However, it can be extreme in some people who experience the symptoms whenever they come across other people.


Treatment for anxiety disorders involved both therapy and medication. The main remedy, that is not as simple as it seems, is talking about what you feel and think. It is not easy for a person to talk about this kind of stuff; however, experts deem it the best treatment.

The conventional treatments for anxiety disorder are:

  • Medications
  • Psychotherapy (talking about your situation with a mental health professional)
  • Exercise
  • Natural remedies and complementary therapies

Medications Prescribed for Anxiety Disorders

There are a number of medications that can be prescribed for anxiety disorders. These medications are prescribed along with therapy. Some people may be prescribed a combination of medicines.

Nevertheless, the common medications for the treatment of anxiety disorders include anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs (also called anxiolytics).

You should know that drugs prove to be handy as compared to the therapy, but they may not help you with anxiety in the absence of therapy.

What Kind of Therapy is Best for Anxiety?

The most effective form of psychotherapy to treat anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy centers on changing the person’s approach and his/her behavior patterns though talking sessions with a trained mental health professional.

The efficiency of CBT has been proven by many studies. The main reason behind the effectiveness of CBT is that it allows the person to participate in his/her treatment. In the CBT, the person works with the therapist to formulate positive techniques that will help with his/her anxiety symptoms.

In this way, you will get to know about the triggers of your anxiety. Once identified, these factors become easier to manage.

CBT also focuses on teaching an anxious individual as to how to change the harmful thought patterns. The change in thinking patterns reduces the frequency of anxiety in the long run. In case you deem a certain situation to be unwelcoming or undesirable, a change in your approach to that situation will change your response to the occurrence of that situation.

However, this change of approach does not come easy neither is CBT a quick fix. You may have to undergo three to four months to see the benefits of this therapy. But you must remember that the benefits linger on for a much longer period of time.

According to the experts, one of the strengths of CBT is that the improvement resulting from the therapy is durable and long lasting. By the time the therapy is completed, the person has learned the techniques that can help him/her for the rest of their life, because the therapy addresses the cause of the anxiety, i.e., thinking patterns and beliefs.

It needs to be mentioned here that the treatment depends upon the type of disorder and the anxiety symptoms.

Only experts know which treatment will be effective for a person. An expert may recommend you different types of treatment or a combination of treatments before concluding which one is best for you.

Does Exercise Reduce Anxiety?

As mentioned earlier, exercise also helps with anxiety. You may need medication or therapy in extreme cases, but a few studies suggest that exercise can be as effective as medication or CBT is. Moreover, it works better than a placebo.

However, the problem with exercise is that those who are suffering from an anxiety disorder would not want to include exercise in their routine. And it is hard to make an anxious person perform an action if they themselves do not desire it.

In fact, according to a few experts, even a 10-minute walk will be hard to take for people who are struggling with extreme anxiety, because they have lower motivation. In such cases, medication can help giving motivation to the patients.

Sometimes, people who have panic disorder experience their condition worsened by exercise. That happens when the person fears that exertion will lead to a panic attack. Nevertheless, such cases are rare and do not occur with the majority.

Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Some natural remedies have proven to be quite effective when dealing with anxiety.

  • Yoga: Evidence suggests that yoga can reduce anxiety. It combines breathing exercises, meditation, and physical postures.
  • Kava: It is a dietary supplement obtained by crushing the root of a Polynesian shrub. Some studies suggest that kava can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. However, consult with your doctor before you consume kava, as the authorities have warned that it can cause liver damage in some people.
  • Acupuncture: It involves inserting very thin needles into the body at specific points. Originating from China, acupuncture has been linked with relief in anxiety symptoms. It can be highly useful when combined with other treatments like CBT.
  • Lavender: Aromatherapy with lavender oil, which has a calming or soothing effect. However, only little scientific evidence is there to support the link between lavender and treatment of anxiety disorder.
  • Valerian: It is a medicinal herb, which has an anecdotal link with the treatment of anxiety and depression. For centuries, many people use it and recommend it for depression. But there is no scientific backing to such anecdotes.


Anxiety is becoming a pressing health concern in the present times. It impacts a person’s life profoundly, as it disrupts the day-to-day routine of the sufferer. Researchers cannot yet identify the exact reason for anxiety. However, there are many treatments for anxiety disorders. Despite the availability of the treatment, anxiety tends to make a comeback in any phase of the life. Therefore, you should keep implementing the techniques you learned in the therapy sessions. Also, you should contact the doctor if you start experiencing the symptoms again. Moreover, if someone is struggling with anxiety around you, try to be empathetic and be understanding about their situation.

Also, check out these 13 Tools to Help You Move Through Anxiety

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