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What Does Anxiety Look Like in Adults?

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues that affects adults. While some nervousness and worry in certain situations is normal, chronic intense anxiety that interferes with daily life may indicate an anxiety disorder. What does anxiety look like in adults, and how can you identify the key signs?

Common Signs and Symptoms

Anxiety can manifest both emotionally and physically in adults. Here are some of the most common indicators:

Emotional symptoms:

  • Constant worrying or dread about everyday situations and activities
  • Feeling overwhelmed, tense, nervous, or on edge
  • Irrational fears or phobias about objects, places, situations
  • Obsessive thoughts and rumination
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or unable to relax
  • Anticipating the worst and catastrophizing

Physical symptoms:

  • Racing heart rate, palpitations
  • Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
  • Sweating, trembling, shaking
  • Headaches, fatigue, insomnia
  • Upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea
  • Muscle tension, aches and pains

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Avoidance of triggering situations
  • Pacing, fidgeting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Always needing reassurance from others
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in eating/sleeping habits

Those with anxiety disorders often experience both emotional and physical symptoms simultaneously. The combination of an unsettled mind and unpleasant bodily sensations can make daily functioning a struggle.

Specific Anxiety Disorders

There are several specific types of anxiety disorders with unique characteristics:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – This involves persistent, excessive worry about everyday things. Adults with GAD often anticipate disaster and feel tense, restless, irritable, and wound-up.

Panic disorder – Recurring panic attacks characterize this disorder. Attacks involve sudden intense fear along with physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, and shortness of breath. The attacks seem to arise out of the blue.

Social anxiety disorder – Also called social phobia, this involves intense fear of social settings and interactions. It manifests as extreme shyness along with racing heart rate, sweating, and avoidance of social situations.

Specific phobias – Phobias involve excessive, irrational fear triggered by specific objects or situations, such as heights, flying, animals, or medical procedures. The phobic situation will always be avoided or endured with intense anxiety.

Agoraphobia – This refers to fear of being in places or situations where escape might be difficult or help unavailable. It often centers around public places like crowds, public transit, or standing in line.

Separation anxiety – Excessive fear about being away from home or detached from key individuals characterizes this disorder. Adults may avoid leaving home or constantly check in with loved ones.

There are many other niche anxiety disorder subsets. Regardless of type, they all produce significant life impairment and distress.

Risk Factors

Certain factors increase the likelihood of developing anxiety disorders:

  • Genetics – Having close family members with anxiety raises your risk.
  • Trauma – Childhood adversity, abuse, loss of loved ones, and PTSD all correlate with anxiety.
  • Substance abuse – Both causes and results from chronic anxiety.
  • Medical conditions – Thyroid disorders, migraine, stroke, heart disease, and hormone changes can trigger anxiety symptoms.
  • Personality – Shyness, risk-aversion, inhibition, neuroticism, and perfectionism tend to correlate with anxiety-prone personalities.
  • Stress – Major life changes, job pressures, financial/relationship uncertainty, and other stressors can provoke anxiety.
  • Gender – Anxiety disorders are diagnosed at about twice the rate in women versus men. Estrogen fluctuations are believed to play a role.

Knowing your potential risk factors can help you recognize signs of anxiety early on before it progresses.

Impact on Daily Life

In addition to emotional anguish and physical discomfort, chronic anxiety takes a toll across all aspects of daily functioning:

  • Relationships – Anxiety can cause isolation, dependence on others, marital conflict, and strained friendships.
  • Work/school – Concentration struggles, avoidance behaviors, and constant worry impair work performance, productivity, and academic success.
  • Self-care – Lack of energy, insomnia, and poor appetite due to anxiety result in nutritional deficits and health problems.
  • Mental health – Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with depression due to reduced quality of life and constant stress.
  • Finances – Healthcare costs, career setbacks, and other consequences drain financial resources.

When anxiety is severe, basic tasks like grocery shopping, driving, or making a phone call become emotionally paralyzing. Learning to manage anxiety is crucial for restoring daily functioning.

Seeing A Professional

If chronic anxiety is disrupting your quality of life, seek help from a mental health professional. Options include:

Psychiatrists – Medical doctors who diagnose mental health conditions and prescribe medications for treatment. Useful for finding the right anxiety medication.

Therapists – Psychologists, social workers, and counselors provide talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly used to treat anxiety.

Support groups – Sharing coping strategies and realizing you aren’t alone can be very beneficial. In-person and online groups are available.

Life coaches – These professionals help with practical aspects of daily functioning impaired by anxiety, like workplace performance or relationships.

Coping with anxiety often requires both therapy and medication. Your provider can refer you to other specialists as needed, such as nutritionists or occupational therapists.

Coping Strategies and Treatment

Here are some of the most effective ways to manage anxiety:

  • Medication – SSRIs, SNRIs, benzodiazepines and beta blockers help restore chemical balance.
  • Psychotherapy – Talk therapy builds coping skills for facing fears and redirecting negative thoughts.
  • Mindfulness practices – Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and grounding techniques counter anxiety.
  • Exercise – Working out releases endorphins and tension to boost mental wellbeing.
  • Healthy habits – Balanced nutrition, adequate sleep and abstaining from stimulants promotes stability.
  • Support system – Having close friends and family to lean on prevents isolation and hopelessness.
  • Nature exposure – Spending time outdoors has clinically proven anti-anxiety effects.

With professional support, medication, lifestyle adjustments, and determination, anxiety disorders can be overcome. The keys are spotting symptoms promptly and committing to effective treatment.


Anxiety in adults can manifest in emotional symptoms like dread and panic or physical symptoms like headaches and nausea. It significantly disrupts work, relationships, and overall wellbeing. Risk factors like trauma or genetics make some more prone. If you observe signs in yourself, consult mental health professionals for clinically proven therapies and medication to regain control. With proper treatment, anxiety disorders can be successfully managed.