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What are anxiety symptoms and signs?

Common symptoms and signs of anxiety can include

  • restlessness or feeling edgy,
  • becoming tired easily,
  • trouble concentrating,
  • feeling as if the mind is going "blank,"
  • irritability,
  • muscle tension,
  • sleep problems (trouble falling or staying asleep or having sleep that is not restful).

Anxiety that is associated with specific (specific or simple phobia) or social fears (social phobia) may also result in avoidance of certain situations or an elevation to the level of panic symptoms. In addition to the more general symptoms of anxiety previously described, worry that is associated with a traumatic event (posttraumatic stress disorder) may also result in the following symptoms:

  • Avoidance of people, places, or situations that are reminiscent of the traumatic event
  • Re-experiencing the trauma in repeated nightmares or flashbacks
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Excessive attention to staying safe or keeping loved ones safe (for example, hypervigilance)
  • A tendency to startle easily
  • A sense of a bleak or foreshortened future

When anxiety intensifies to the level of becoming a panic attack, signs and symptoms can include

  • palpitations;
  • chest pain, chest tightness, feeling like one is having a heart attack;
  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing;
  • sweating of the palms;
  • nausea or other stomach upset;
  • trembling or shaking;
  • feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint;
  • derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself);
  • fear of losing control or going insane;
  • numbness or tingling sensations;
  • chills or hot flashes;
  • feeling like one is choking;
  • a sense of impending doom;
  • feeling like one is dying.

Anxiety symptoms and signs in children and teenagers

The similarities and differences in symptoms of anxiety in adults compared to children and adolescents depend on the specific condition that is causing the anxiety. For example, symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are quite similar in children and teens compared to adults except that children and teens are less likely to recognize that their thoughts or behaviors are irrational. That is also true of minors who suffer from social phobia or specific phobia.

In addition to some of the differences in the symptoms themselves, before puberty, males seem to develop OCD more commonly than girls, and after puberty, females seem to have OCD more often than males. In children and adolescents, boys and girls seem to develop panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder at equal rates. Disorders that tend to occur with OCD (co-morbid) are more commonly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and tics in prepubescent people, versus other anxiety disorders and depression in teens and adults.

Symptoms of anxiety in children and teens tend to be consistent with how they express feelings in general. For example, lacking the higher ability to express feelings verbally compared to older children, younger children tend to express anxiety by complaining of physical symptoms like stomach upset or headaches. They are also more likely to cry, have tantrums, or become clingy. Compared to anxiety symptoms in children, in teens, the symptoms of anxiety will more closely approximate those in adults. However, adolescents are more likely than adults to exhibit anxiety by becoming irritable or angry.

Children with an anxiety disorder tend to develop the illness in early childhood, with symptoms being persistent, coming and going into adulthood.

Anxiety symptoms and signs in men and women

Studies indicate that men seem to experience different types of effects of anxiety compared to women. Specifically, men tend to exhibit more psychological symptoms of anxiety, like tension, irritability, and a sense of impending doom. In contrast, women tend to develop more physical symptoms like chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and nausea. Further, it seems that women with such physical symptoms of anxiety are more at risk for developing heart problems.

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