Alice Boyes, Ph.D.
Anxiety symptoms fall into five categories. Different types of anxiety symptoms are characteristically associated with different anxiety disorders, but there is overlap.
1. Physical anxiety symptoms
Most common anxiety symptoms are part of our evolved fight/flight/freeze response. For example, increased heart rate for running and fighting. Blood flow increases to your large muscles. It also moves away from your extremities so you’re less likely to bleed out if you lose a finger in a fight, and this can result in tingling or numbness in hands and feet. Goosebumps are related to making hair stand on end to make animals look larger and scarier, and thereby discourage predators (think: cats). Sweating is part of cooling and making animals more slippery. People with panic disorder, health anxiety, and social anxiety tend to over-monitor their physical sensations.
One type of social anxiety involves fear of blushing. Paradoxically, blushing is often associated with more positive evaluations rather than more negative. It’s thought blushing evolved because it helped with social cohesion e.g., when we communicate embarrassment or shame it most often provokes caring in others. High worriers often have problems with muscle aches and tension (shoulders, wrists, jaw etc.). People often have “catastrophic cognitions” about their physical symptoms of anxiety. They worry that physical symptoms of anxiety are signs of illness (“Have I got M.S?”) or “going crazy.”
2. Cognitive anxiety symptoms (thoughts)
People with social anxiety often worry that their anxiety will be obvious to others or that people will judge them as boring, stupid, or unattractive. People often worry about being incapacitated by anxiety or losing control due to anxiety. There is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in which the sufferer fears they will become a pedophile, despite no evidence for this. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder often worry that their frequent worrying will harm them. Paradoxically, they often also believe that worry is necessary for being prepared / not making mistakes.
People with anxiety tend to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening, but most importantly they underestimate their ability to cope if something negative did happen. For example, they underestimate their ability to cope if they did get “dumped” by a friend. Anxiety often causes people to lose confidence in themselves. People’s thinking tends to become more all-or-nothing when they’re anxious. You might find you can’t see the wood for the trees or that your thinking feels rigid and that thoughts seem to get stuck.
3. Behavioral symptoms of anxiety
Avoidance is the number 1 behavioral symptom of anxiety. People avoid situations and actions they fear will trigger anxiety or where they’ll be unable to escape. People might avoid situations in which they fear they will not be able to perform as perfectly as they would like. People may overcompensate for anxiety by working extra hard. Many types of anxiety involve both over-checking and under-checking. For example, someone with an eating disorder who is anxious about their weight might sometimes weigh themselves very frequently or sometimes avoid weighing themselves, or check their appearance in mirrors a lot or avoid this.
4. Affective anxiety symptoms (emotions)
Affect is the felt experience of an emotion. Anxiety obviously feels like anxiety, but other emotions are commonly felt by people who are anxious. For example, irritability and hopelessness.
5. Interpersonal Anxiety Symptoms
There are lots of interpersonal symptoms of anxiety. People with panic disorder, generalized anxiety, health anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety may do a lot of reassurance seeking, especially with their romantic partners. People who are anxious might avoid sex because the physical sensations (e.g., increased heart rate and body temperature) feel too similar to symptoms of anxiety. People with anxiety sometimes fear being dependent or incompetent and this has relationship implications. People may snap at partners or other family due to anxiety-induced irritability.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is generally considered the best treatment for anxiety. You can try some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercises yourself. on my therapy website AliceBoyes.com
About the author
You can find @DrAliceBoyes on Twitter or join my Facebook page where I ask happiness questions, do 30 day projects, and talk about how I use psychology in my own life. https://www.facebook.com/DrAliceBoyes.