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What It Means To Have Anxiety

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

You have a test tomorrow or a big presentation at work, and just thinking about it makes your heart race a little. It’s a little harder for you to get to sleep because you’re thinking about how this could affect your future. These are common sources of stress and anxiety.

When people talk about anxiety, they usually mention stress as well. Stress is a change of events that causes fear, nervousness or worry, which the body responds to in different ways, like a faster heart beat and sharper senses, according to the website, Helpguide.org.

Anxiety is defined similarly to stress. It is considered a reaction to stress, and it can be normal at manageable levels, according to the National Institute of Mental Health website. It is thought of as fear of future events, with physical reactions like sweating and tension, as well as doubting one’s capabilities to handle the future, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. An article on Medical News Today also states that “it feels a bit like fear but whereas we know what we are frightened of, we often don't know what we are anxious about.”

Anxiety can also progress into a disorder that can affect everyday life and functioning. Multiple anxiety disorder has five main types according to the NIMH website, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia/social anxiety disorder. In general, anxiety disorders are defined as “an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations.” However, each disorder is individualized.

For example, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – IV –TR), social phobia or social anxiety disorder is characterized by “a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur,” along with more specific criteria. If a person is exposed to this situation, it “almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response,” even if people with this disorder know the fear is unreasonable or excessive.

An article on Helpguide.org states some general symptoms of anxiety disorders, including feeling tense, worried and on edge, feeling dread, being irritable and restless, having issues concentrating, planning for the worst to happen, having an upset stomach, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, muscle tension, diarrhea, shortness of breath and feeling dizzy and sweating.

Some people with anxiety have panic attacks as well, which are episodes of extreme fear and anxiety, according to the article. If you have an anxiety or panic attack, you might feel like you’re losing control, have problems breathing, hyperventilate, have hot flashes, have a rapid heart beat and tremble.

Fortunately there are treatments available for anxiety disorders, including different therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy, according to the article. There are also medications for anxiety disorders, and exercise and relaxation techniques can help as well.


Smith, Melinda; Segal, Robert and Segal, Jeanne. Understanding Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects. HelpGuide.org. Web. August 24, 2011. http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm

National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH – Anxiety Disorders. Web. August 24, 2011.

Merriam-Webster. Anxiety – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. August 24, 2011.

Nordqvist, Christian. What is Anxiety? What Causes Anxiety? What To Do About It. Medical News Today. Web. August 24, 2011. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/7603.php

Smith, Melinda and Segal, Jeanne. Anxiety Attacks and Disorders: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment. Helpguide.org. Web. August 24, 2011. http://helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_types_symptoms_treatment.htm

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder: Fourth Edition: Text Revision. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Reviewed on August 25, 2011
by Maryann Gromisch
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment2 Comments


Having anxiety that cripples you is very debilitating. I have always had a fear of speaking in front of large groups. I think its fairly common actually. It never stopped me from doing it but I would definitely not volunteer myself for it.

Being a dentist and having to interact with people all day long is much easier. Being able to talk to someone on a one on one level I find very easy and natural most of the time.

Marielaina Perrone DDS
Henderson Dental Phobia Treatment

October 17, 2012 - 11:24am

I never new a person could have social anxiety but it sounds like something I have and always tried to over come.People said to me it is all in your head and gave me tips like try looking at the audience nude.Silly advice that didn't not work for me.I realize that some of this social anxiety comes from my younger years and happened at social events where people I knew and loved at the time had put me down infront of people so many times.It is ashame how people don't think how incidents like that can affect a person later on in life.Thanks for the insight because I feel frightened just thinking I have to socialize even if it is a small gathering. I am afraid I am going to embarass my friends,thats what was told to me back when,when I enjoyed socializing I remember that it use to be fun.

August 25, 2011 - 10:11am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.