What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion that you feel when you’re worried about something. Your body tenses up, and your mind becomes fixated on the thing you’re worried about. It can be hard to concentrate on anything else. Anxiety can also affect your appetite and make it hard to sleep.

A little anxiety can be useful. For example, if you’re anxious about an upcoming exam, it might motivate you to study so that you feel more prepared. But anxiety can easily get out of hand. If you’re so anxious that you can’t concentrate on studying, the anxiety is no longer useful.

When anxiety gets so out of hand that it starts to interfere with your daily life, you might have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are a type of mental illness. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, and PTSD. But what they all have in common is that a person with an anxiety disorder experiences anxiety that is out of proportion with what’s happening around them.

Symptoms of an anxiety disorder

Everyone’s experience with anxiety is different, but some of the common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle pain, tightness, or soreness
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Feeling exhausted even after a full night’s sleep
  • Going out of your way to avoid situations that make you anxious
  • Intrusive thoughts (unwanted thoughts or worries that won’t go away)

Many people with anxiety also experience depression. Because there’s some overlap in symptoms, sometimes people who have both conditions only get diagnosed with one.  

Life problems

For people who have anxiety, the symptoms cause serious problems in their lives. Difficulty concentrating can making it hard to do well in school or at work. Many people take extreme measures to avoid situations that might trigger their anxiety. They might isolate themselves from others, avoid public spaces, or change their daily routines to avoid something that makes them anxious.

Panic attacks

People with anxiety disorders often experience panic attacks. Panic attacks look different for everyone, but people often describe having trouble breathing, feeling like they’re going to pass out or even die, and feeling detached from their surroundings. Panic attacks can be scary, but they’re not life-threatening and they can be treated.

Trauma

Some people develop anxiety disorders as a way of protecting themselves. If you’ve experienced a traumatic event in the past, you might feel anxious any time you’re reminded of the event, even if you’re safe now. Working through your trauma can help you treat your anxiety disorder.

Treatment and recovery

Anxiety disorders are treatable. Many people benefit from some combination of therapy, medications, and/or lifestyle changes. Anxiety doesn’t have to control your life!


Take our mental health screen to find out if you’re at risk for an anxiety disorder.

For more information about anxiety disorders, check out this video made by our friends at the Kendall College of Art and Design:

References

Treatment & Resources