What is anxiety?

While anxiety symptoms vary from person to person, in general the body reacts in a very specific way. When you feel anxious, your body goes on high alert, looking for possible danger and activating your fight or flight responses.  Some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • tension, nervousness, restlessness
  • feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • increased or heavy sweating
  • trembling or muscle twitching
  • weakness and lethargy
  • difficulty focusing or thinking clearly
  • insomnia
  • digestive problems, such as gas, constipation, or diarrhoea
  • obsessions about certain things, a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • performing certain behaviours over and over again
  • anxiety surrounding a particular event or experience that has occurred in the past, especially indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Panic attacks 

A panic attack is a sudden onset of fear or distress that peaks in minutes and involves experiencing at least four of the following symptoms:

  • palpitations
  • sweating
  • shaking or trembling
  • feeling shortness of breath
  • sensation of choking
  • chest pains or tightness
  • nausea or gastrointestinal problems
  • dizziness, light-headedness, or feeling faint
  • feeling hot or cold
  • numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesia)
  • feeling detached from oneself or reality, known as depersonalization and derealisation
  • fear of “going crazy” or losing control
  • fear of dying

There are some symptoms of anxiety that are the same as conditions other than anxiety disorders. This is usually the case with panic attacks. The symptoms of panic attacks are similar to those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses.  

There are several types of anxiety disorders, these include: 


People who have agoraphobia have a fear of certain places or situations that make them feel trapped or powerless. These feelings lead to panic attacks. People with agoraphobia may try to avoid these places and situations to prevent panic attacks. 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) 

People with GAD experience constant anxiety and worry about activities or events, even those that are ordinary or routine. The worry is greater than it should be given the reality of the situation. The worry causes physical symptoms in the body, such as headaches, stomach upset, or trouble sleeping.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD is the continual experience of unwanted or intrusive thoughts and worries that cause anxiety. A person may know these thoughts are trivial, but they will try to relieve their anxiety by performing certain rituals or behaviours. This may include hand washing, counting, or checking on things such as whether or not they’ve locked the door or switched off the cooker. 

Panic disorder 

Panic disorder causes sudden and repeated bouts of severe anxiety, fear, or terror that peak in a matter of minutes. This is known as a panic attack. Those experiencing a panic attack may experience:  

  • feelings of looming danger
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat that feels like fluttering or pounding (palpitations) 

Panic attacks may cause a person to worry about them occurring again or try to avoid situations in which they’ve previously occurred. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

PTSD occurs after a person experiences a traumatic event such as:

  • war
  • assault
  • natural disaster
  • accident

Symptoms include trouble relaxing, disturbing dreams, or flashbacks of the traumatic event or situation. People with PTSD may also avoid things related to the trauma.  

Specific phobias 

This is a fear of a specific object, event, or situation that results in severe anxiety when you’re exposed to that thing. It’s accompanied by a powerful desire to avoid it.  Phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), may cause you to experience panic attacks when exposed to the thing you fear.