Anxiety FAQ

What is Anxiety / Definition of Anxiety ?


“Anxiety” is an umbrella term used to capture a vast variety of symptoms and a range of psychological disorders. It is characterized by psychological stress, tension, worries, and symptoms characteristic of fears and concerns about the possibility of the occurrence of negative events.


What are the symptoms of Anxiety ?


Some of the most frequently reported symptoms of anxiety are physical in nature. Oftentimes, people who experience anxiety describe heart pounding or palpitations, excessive sweating, having an upset stomach, feeling dizzy, and shortness of breath. In addition, anxiety can create an urge for frequent urination or diarrhea, or can manifest as headaches, twitches and tremors, muscle tension, general fatigue and insomnia.
While the physical symptoms may be the most noticeable symptoms to the person suffering from anxiety, other symptoms are also important to keep in mind. Emotional symptoms are also very common. For example, feeling a very intense fear and/or worry is the primary symptom of anxiety. It is frequently accompanied by difficulties concentrating, irritability, restlessness, feelings of dread and apprehension, and always being on the lookout for signs of danger or possible negative outcomes.

When anxiety takes a more extreme form, it can manifest as an anxiety attack. While the primary symptom of an anxiety attack is a feeling of intense and extreme fear, these attacks can occur and bring about a whole range of symptoms, including the fear of losing control or the fear of going crazy, feeling lightheaded, having trouble breathing, nausea, and even feelings of detachment from the situation or that the situation is not ‘real’. In addition, very common symptoms for an anxiety attack are chills and/or hot flashes, and shaking and/or trembling. Anxiety attacks come about very abruptly and do not give much warning. There may be an immediate or recognizable trigger, but often times there is no clear trigger for these attacks as they appear to ‘come out of the blue.’ These attacks typically peak within the first 10 minutes after onset, and can last as long as half an hour.


What are the different types of anxiety ?


Anxiety comes in many forms, from very mild symptoms to a crippling disorder. The major forms of anxiety disorder include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).


 Panic Disorder:

This disorder is characterized by repeated panic attacks that come on without warning, and lead to a persistent fear of having another attack.


Phobias are often represented in the media, and refer to an unrealistic fear of a specific animal, object or situation. Oftentimes people have phobias that revolve around snakes, spiders, insects, flying, or height. Individuals with phobias often try to avoid the feared stimulus. It is important to note that phobias can range in severity and that not every phobia requires treatment. For example, if a person has a severe fear of elephants, but they have little to no chance of ever encountering an elephant in their personal or professional life, this phobia is likely to not be impairing.

Social Anxiety Disorder:

This disorder is an extreme form of the common fear of being judged negatively by others. It can also include fears of being humiliated in public, or being embarrassed in front of others. While mild levels of these fears are normative especially in new situations, and reflect the human need to belong and feel accepted, the more extreme forms can prevent individuals from making friends and connecting to others, and can lead them to avoid all types of human contact that could represent a potential social threat.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:

This disorder is characterized by repetitive, intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors that are difficult to control and that are aimed at reducing the anxiety produced by (obsessive) thoughts. For example, worries that you forgot to turn off electric appliances before leaving the house, or worries that you may hurt someone, are frequent types of obsessive thoughts.

Compulsive behaviors aimed at counteracting the fear and anxiety triggered by these thoughts can also come in many forms, such as washing one’s hands again and again, having to touch certain objects a certain number of times, cleaning for several hours a day, etc.

Many people experience mild forms of these thoughts and behaviors, but unless they take up a significant amount of time or are distressing to the individual, people can lead successful and fulfilling lives without treatment.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

This disorder is characterized by constant fears and worries of a general nature, about something bad that might happen to oneself and to loved ones. These fears and worries are distracting from day-to-day activities. Typically individuals suffering from this form of anxiety feel tense and anxious most of the time, and experience physical symptoms associated with stress, including trouble sleeping, restlessness, fatigue, and digestive problems.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

This form of anxiety occurs when someone has experienced a traumatic event and includes symptoms such as flashbacks, hypervigilance, withdrawing from others and feeling as if one has no future, or the future is pointless.

What are the signs of Anxiety ?

The signs of anxiety are any constellation of the symptoms described above. Typically, having trouble sleeping because of worries or thoughts about a never-ending to-do list can be early signs of anxiety. This type of stress can build over time and lead to more acute signs, such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, feeling like the mind has gone blank, and nausea.

Even if an immediate cause of these symptoms is not recognizable, signs that indicate that someone may suffer from anxiety are experiencing a chronic stressor, feeling overwhelmed most of time, feeling on edge or irritable, not sleeping well, not eating well and feeling tense.

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety is frequently caused by external stressors, such as pressure at work or school, feeling unhappy professionally, a major life change regardless if positive or negative (beginning a new job, losing a job, getting married, getting divorced, moving to another country, etc.). Financial stress is also a major cause of anxiety problems.

In addition, use of substances (caffeine, cocaine, etc.) can also lead to anxiety problems. Anxiety can also accompany medical diagnoses as these lead to increased worries regarding one’s health, and can also result from certain medications. These side effects should be discussed with the physician or pharmacist if they become problematic.

When is the best time to address anxiety disorder?

The best time to address an anxiety disorder is as early as possible. Once the anxiety has reached a level at which it is impairing and debilitating, it can spiral out of control and dramatically increase the negative consequences of the anxiety.

 I’ve been struggling with anxiety for a long time. What can I do to get over it once and for all?

It is important to keep in mind that fear and anxiety are a part of normal human experience and serve a very important evolutionary purpose: they alert us about danger and prepare our body for reacting rapidly to the dangerous situation (Bateson, Brilot, & Nettle, 2011).

Getting over anxiety once and for all is likely detrimental to one’s physical and emotional health. The goel for therapy, then, is not to get rid of it, but rather to learn to accept and cope with it. One of the most effective behavioral interventions for anxiety is exposure to the feared stimulus, so that the mind can learn – over repeated experiences – that the feared stimulus, while upsetting or unpleasant, is not crippling and not something to be feared.

Relaxation techniques (Bernstein, 2000) and meditation may also be helpful in helping you become more in tune with your body’s physiological reactions and help you relax (Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010).

Is it possible to have anxiety symptoms and not feel anxious or stressed?

This depends on the anxiety symptoms. It is possible to experience headaches or to have some repetitive worries or thoughts without feeling anxious or stressed.

These symptoms are part of normal human experience and for some of them, their purpose is precisely to trigger anxiety or stress and thus alert the mind that there may be a threat or a problem that needs to be taken care of.

However, the human brain has the capacity to place all these symptoms into an appropriate context and thereby regulate the intensity of the experience of anxiety and stress.

Is anxiety disorder totally reversible?

Anxiety disorder is reversible in the sense that a person’s anxiety can be treated to return to typical (or moderately elevated, but not impairing) levels of anxiety and stress.

Since the symptoms of anxiety disorders, on their own, play important functions for a person’s social and professional functioning and survival, it is not a goal of treatment to reverse these symptoms until no anxiety, stress, or fear is ever experienced again.

However, these symptoms can be reversed to levels in which they are not perceived as crippling or impairing.




American Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, & DSM-5 Task Force. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association.

Bateson, M., Brilot, B., & Nettle, D. (2011). Anxiety: an evolutionary approach. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 56(12), 707–715.

Bernstein, D. A. (2000). New directions in progressive relaxation training: a guidebook for helping professionals. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183. doi:10.1037/a0018555

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