Anxiety | symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention

Anxiety | symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention


Anxiety is a normal reaction that turns into an illness when it occurs when no event really warrants it. We then speak of anxiety disorders, incompatible with everyday life.

While it is normal to feel anxiety the night before an exam or when faced with a one-off problem, this feeling can take on unwarranted and disabling importance.

Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive and behavioral components.

In the absence or presence of psychological stress, anxiety can create overwhelming feelings of fear, worry and dread. Anxiety is considered a “normal” reaction to a stressful situation. When anxiety becomes excessive, it can be classified as “anxiety disorder”. The intensity and functioning of the subject inform the practitioner to determine if it is a natural or pathological reaction


Anxiety is a normal reaction that becomes an illness when it occurs when there is no event that really justifies it. We then speak of anxiety disorders, incompatible with everyday life. Anxiety can take many forms: generalized anxiety, phobias, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD. Anxiety disorders are expressed in very many ways depending on the patient’s family and personal history, heredity, imagination or the causes of the first episodes of anxiety.


Anxiety can be diffuse, persistent, irrational, and affect most situations in everyday life. This is called generalized anxiety. This unmanageable anxiety is a source of suffering and makes any pleasure impossible.

Anxiety can also focus on one or more very specific situations, the presence of which will cause intense symptoms. These are the phobic disorders. The phobia becomes serious when it forces the affected person to restrict their activities.

Sometimes the anxiety is concentrated intensely for a very short period of time, just a few minutes. Without warning signs, it comes on violently and causes symptoms that can mimic an acute attack of heart, lung or neurological disease. These are panic disorders, also known as panic attacks or anxiety attacks.

Regardless of the form of anxiety, its manifestations are often similar. In addition to psychological symptoms (anxiety, fear, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, distraction) there are sometimes stressful physical symptoms: heart palpitations, muscle tension, feeling of suffocation, sweating, hot or cold flashes, feeling of lump in throat or stomach, sleeplessness, etc. These physical symptoms are not always very obvious about anxiety, and people are worried about having another disease.

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In some cases, anxiety does not cause these types of symptoms, but rather involves repetitive action to temporarily relieve it. These are obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD). The ritual adopted is repeated more and more often and ends up interfering with the social and professional life of the patient, who lives his anxiety in secrecy and shame.


The most common anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety. It affects between 5% and 8% of the population. Women are twice as affected as men, especially after 40 years. From this age, one in ten women is affected.

Anxiety: how is it diagnosed?

If there is the slightest doubt, or if the symptoms set in over time, it is important to talk to your general practitioner or psychiatrist, taking care to mention the date of onset of the signs, their level of severity and that of the patient. impact on daily life. The doctor must be able to assess whether it is serious anxiety or not. After a first questionnaire seeking to identify an event responsible for anxiety, a family history of psychiatric disorders, the responsibility for a drug, an addiction (alcohol, drug, medication etc.) or other factors that may explain the cause of this anxiety.

From this questionnaire the doctor should assess the type of anxiety and disorder from which the person suffers and adapt the treatment according to this information and refer him to a specialist or suitable drugs.

The evolution of anxiety

If it is not taken care of, anxiety can be a source of even more serious disorders such as depression, the development of an addiction (drugs, alcohol, etc.), cause-and-effect links with chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart problems and diabetes have also been identified. If anxiety sets in, it can also become generalized and cause serious psychiatric disorders like OCD, socially debilitating phobias etc.



Anxiety manifests itself as a diffuse feeling of worry that negatively affects daily life. The anxious person is tired, irritable, has difficulty concentrating and feels unable to control situations that arise. In addition to psychological symptoms, there are sometimes overwhelming physical symptoms: heart palpitations, muscle tension, feeling of suffocation, sweating, hot or cold flashes, feeling of a lump in the throat or stomach, insomnia, etc.


The person feels fear and anguish about most events in life and always fears the arrival of a disaster. Even when things are going well, she tells herself it won’t last. She is tired, irritable, has trouble concentrating, and feels unable to control situations that arise. Sometimes she isolates herself for fear of not having control over her surroundings (social anxiety).

Sometimes the anxious person tries to escape their fear of the next day by becoming hyperactive, launching into a headlong rush that makes them feel like they are in control of what the future holds.


The physical symptoms are varied and numerous: trouble sleeping, muscle pain, palpitations, tremors, sweaty hands, dizziness, chills, headache or stomach ache, diarrhea or constipation, feeling of tightness in the chest, feeling of suffocation, knot in stomach or throat, spasmophilia, constant urge to urinate, etc.


Spasmophilia is too much emotional sensitivity which manifests itself in a sudden attack, bringing together a very diverse set of symptoms: eyelids and facial muscles twitching, feeling of dizziness and fainting, tingling, loss of sensitivity in the hands, paralysis of the fingers, feeling of suffocation, palpitations, for example. For psychiatrists, spasmophilia is a manifestation of anxiety disorders.


Well-identified factors can cause anxiety states, including:

  • a stressful situation with physical or mental exhaustion, for example chronic stress at work;
    illness or death in the family or in the circle of friends;
  • a precarious professional situation;
  • a new stage in life (such as retirement, divorce, the departure of a child from the home);
  • hormonal changes during menopause;
  • a negative experience (eg physical assault);
  • mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia.

From the point of view of psychoanalysis, anxiety would reflect the existence of unresolved unconscious conflicts at fundamental stages of a child’s development. These conflicts, which include separation anxiety and fear of losing a loved one, can arise spontaneously or as a result of a particular traumatic experience.



It is recommended to consult a doctor if:

  • has significant repercussions on social or professional life;
  • is accompanied by black thoughts, insomnia or weariness in the morning;
  • lasts more than four to five days, or if it comes back frequently;
  • leads to alcohol, drug or medication abuse;
  • the physical symptoms (palpitations, insomnia, nausea, etc.) become unbearable;
  • you fear losing control of your emotions or feel the need to talk about your anxiety.
  • If the anxiety is transient, caused by an identifiable and specific reason or if it is known and old, it is possible to self-medicate.

The diagnosis of anxiety is made when the patient complains of excessive, chronic and uncontrollable worries for more than six months and presents at least three of the following six symptoms: fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, muscle pain, restlessness or over-excitement.

It is often poorly managed, because those affected are reluctant to consult. They believe that their heightened anxiety is a trait of their personality, that they must put up with it and that there is no cure. The majority of people with anxiety report having always had this excessive worry.


If anxiety disorders are left untreated, they can progress to depression. Untreated anxiety can also lead to alcoholism, drug addiction or suicide attempts. Long-term complications are possible, leading to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer or diabetes, for example. In addition, generalized anxiety promotes the onset of other anxiety disorders, simple phobia or social phobia, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


The treatment of anxiety is based on psychotherapy, possibly in combination with medication if the symptoms are too much to bear. Anxiety disorders can be treated with several types of medications: anxiolytics and certain antidepressants. These drugs should only be prescribed in cases where anxiety disorders become disabling and hamper daily life. The basic treatment of anxiety disorders is mainly based on psychotherapies.



Anxiety is normal at times in a child’s development. For example, during the preschool years, a child is often anxious about separating from his parents. As in adults, this anxiety becomes pathological when it interferes with daily activities. It can then lead to social or academic difficulties.

The most common signs of anxiety in children are sleep disorders, refusal to go to school (school phobia), to participate in sports or to go to sleep with friends, certain symptoms physical such as stomach aches and vomiting or fatigue. It can be difficult for parents to identify because anxious children are often wise, calm, and concerned with pleasing. When a child has it, psychological treatment should be started as soon as possible.



An important event is taking place tomorrow. Until then you weren’t very worried, and suddenly you got a rush of anguish. Your heart starts beating faster, your hands get sweaty, you have difficulty swallowing your saliva, you feel bad and you cannot reason with yourself.

Simple relaxation techniques can be effective in calming you down. Breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes. Block your breath by counting to three at the end of each breath. Completely empty your lungs with each exhale. Consciously relax your muscles starting with the lower body and working your way up to the face. Relativize the stressful event as much as possible, trying to see the positives.

Participants in sports events or exams must adapt to sometimes contradictory imperatives, be motivated and combative, while remaining in control of themselves. Some people have a natural ability to control stress and maintain alertness at a level favorable to performance. Others need to use special techniques against stress: relaxation, deep breathing, self-control, etc.

Methods of dealing with stress vary from person to person. Some people need to isolate themselves before hardship, to focus and keep their minds set on their goal. Others prefer to spend time surrounded by friends, teammates, colleagues … for mutual support and encouragement.

Try to remember how you have prepared for trials in the past and to remember what actions have been most beneficial to you. You will be able to apply them, even improve them.


Since anxiety is a normal reaction, prevention measures are more aimed at preventing transient anxiety from setting in for a long time. Speaking is a great way to relieve anxious feeling. Do not hesitate to talk to a loved one, a doctor or a psychological support professional. Unexpressed worries quickly tend to become difficult to bear. Sports activities are often of great help for people with an anxious temperament: physical activity combats stress, relaxes, changes ideas and helps relieve physical tension.

Practice relaxation activities (yoga, tai chi, relaxation therapy, etc.) that can help with stress management. Try to go to bed early and get enough sleep. Make sure your diet is balanced and satisfying. Reduce your caffeine intake (coffee, tea, colas, chocolate, guarana, etc.).


Anxiety is a difficult disease that needs to be treated. A management possibly combining the taking of appropriate drugs, supportive psychotherapy and a change in lifestyle can provide considerable help to the anxious person.


The main treatment for anxiety is through psychotherapy techniques. Psychotherapy should be systematically undertaken by the anxious person, possibly in combination with medication if the symptoms are too difficult to bear.

Supportive psychotherapy can be initiated by the general practitioner at the first consultation. He listens and advises the patient according to the situations that cause him anxiety. During this first approach, the anxious person may perceive the value of specialized and structured psychotherapy.

Cognitive and behavioral therapies have been the most studied in the treatment of anxiety. They have shown lasting efficacy, provided that the treatment has been sufficiently intense and prolonged: at least one session per week for three to six months. These therapies aim first to understand the circumstances in which anxiety symptoms appear, to identify the negative and irrational thinking pattern that comes into play, and then to modify it. Supported by the therapist, the anxious patient learns to recognize the factors triggering anxiety, and to monitor his reactions. He becomes aware of his catastrophic interpretation of events. Little by little, it better measures the real level of threat linked to hazards and its ability to cope with them.

Cognitive and behavioral therapy can also include relaxation and breathing techniques, which help the patient to relax.

Analytically inspired psychotherapies can help uncover the underlying reasons for anxiety, identifying early traumas in early emotional relationships. Despite the lack of benchmark studies, experience shows that this type of therapy significantly and lastingly improves the condition of people with disabling anxiety disorder.


Physical activity, combined with a balanced diet and a regular pace of life, seems to complement other types of treatment particularly well. Walking, running, swimming and cycling are thus recommended to manage stress and fight anxiety, at a rate of about 30 minutes a day if possible.

Stopping alcohol and tobacco, as well as reducing coffee consumption, also help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Finally, everyone can choose a method of relaxation to their liking, among all those available to them, such as yoga, meditation, massages or sophrology.

Main forms of anxiety disorders

The most common forms of anxiety disorders are:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
This worry often takes the form of rumination, or spending time excessively thinking or mulling over different events in the future — how they may play out and how you may deal with them.

It’s not uncommon to have symptoms and not be able to explain why. For people with GAD, symptoms like those listed above are present most days and for at least the past 6 months.


An irrational fear
Phobias are characterized by an unreasonable and intense fear triggered by the confrontation with a specific object or situation: spiders, airplane … Approaching the situation (having to take a plane in a week), or even its evocation (speaking of a mouse, imagine it …), triggers the appearance of symptoms of physical anxiety (tachycardia, pallor, tremors, sweating …). The first symptoms often appear before the age of 12: palpitations, sweating, chest pain or discomfort.

Fear or phobia?
Avoidance behaviors can develop quite quickly: the patient avoiding confronting himself, or risking confronting himself with any situation suggestive of his phobia. So, if a fear of spiders is limited to their mere sight, this is usually not a major problem. If, on the other hand, the fear of spiders spreads to the point of preventing someone from going on vacation for fear of seeing spiders in the hotel room, one can evoke a real phobia. There is a real disruption of normal operation. In this case, the progressive isolation of the patient and the development of a depressive state are often the rule. It is therefore fundamental to distinguish fears, which are ultimately quite common and occasional (spiders, fear of heights, etc.), from real pathological phobias, invasive and disabling in daily, family or professional life.

Anxiety disorders – Forms – Phobias
Specific phobias
Animals and environment
The “animal” type is most common with the famous phobias of snakes (erpetophobia), spiders (arachnophobia) or mice (musophobia). A patient can, in this type of phobia, go, for example, to avoid leaving his home so as not to encounter all the signs reminiscent of the shape of the snake, such as pharmacy signs.

Let us also mention phobias of natural environments, such as thunderstorms (cheimophobia) or heights (acrophobia).

“Situational” phobias are fears induced by specific situations such as public transport, elevators or closed places (claustrophobia).

Blood and injections
Finally, phobias of blood and injections are characterized rather by physical reactions, such as loss of consciousness when confronted with certain medical situations.

Some of the more common phobias include:

  • acrophobia (fear of heights)
  • claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces)
  • aerophobia (fear of flying)
  • hemophobia (fear of blood)
  • trypanophobia (fear of needles)
  • hydrophobia (fear of water)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Permanent suffering
OCD develops quite slowly. The first symptoms often appear in men between 6 and 15 years old and in women between 20 and 29 years old. About 2.5% of the population would be affected.

Obsessions are intrusive, recurring, and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that impose themselves on the person and cause negative emotions such as distress or significant anxiety. These obsessions become unmanageable and significantly disrupt the daily functioning of the patient. The most frequent are obsessions of contamination (fear of being infected), pathological doubt (“have I closed the door properly?”), Symmetry (not being able to bear to see objects in disorder).

Compulsions and rituals
In order to ward off anxiety, the OCD patient submits to a series of acts, gestures and behaviors, called compulsions, of which he recognizes the absurdity. He is unable to resist it for fear of aggravating his obsessions and the anxieties that result from it. Thus, the obsessions of contamination are averted by washing rituals: a sequence of elementary acts codified and fixed; any error forces the patient to start over. These behaviors invade everyday life and nibble little by little every moment of the day.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, accident, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

Symptoms can include difficulty relaxing, upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event, and avoidance of anything related to the event. PTSD is diagnosed when a person has symptoms for at least a month.
The subject’s coping skills (how to cope) are overwhelmed. The immediate reaction to the event will have been expressed by an intense fear (dread), by a feeling of helplessness or by a feeling of horror.

Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

Social Phobia, or Social Anxiety Disorder, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation – such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others – or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.
Fear of the gaze of others
Social phobia (or social anxiety) is distinguished from simple stage fright or shyness by persistent avoidance behavior. Thus, in everyday life, social phobias will not be able to speak in professional meetings, will avoid meeting their neighbors or colleagues during coffee breaks or will refrain from giving their opinion during discussions or when they are asked. made remarks. Another striking feature is that some social phobias will dread eating, drinking or writing in public, knowing that they are being watched or observed.

Result: isolation
Fundamentally, the essential fear of social phobics is that of humiliation or of the critical or accusatory gaze of the other. They are afraid of being judged as weak, incapable, stupid … Avoiding meetings, meetings, fearful of giving their opinion, of exposing themselves to the gaze or criticism, social phobias lock themselves in their avoidance behavior and end up isolating themselves with symptoms: flushing, trembling voice, palpitations, sweating, diarrhea.



If you have mild anxiety or temporary worry – the cause of which is known and specific – you can take medication without a prescription. This may contain:

  • plant extracts (hawthorn, passionflower, valerian, etc.) known for their sedative properties;
  • bromine salts;
  • trace elements, especially in the event of irritability or spasmophilia;
  • homeopathic medicines;
  • magnesium. Indeed, irritability, anxiety, temporary fatigue and sleep disturbances can be signs of a magnesium deficiency; in this case, its contribution can be useful.

It is normal to feel anxious the day before a test or when you are faced with a one-off problem. As long as these disorders remain temporary and do not constitute a handicap in daily life, they can be relieved by rules of hygiene of life and the intake of sedative (calming) plants.


The proposed plants essentially have sedative (calming) properties. They are used separately or in formulas composed of several plants. They are most often found as medicines or extracts in capsules, tablets or as such in infusions.


Valerian has shown some efficacy in anxiety-related sleep disorders. But its action is not immediate: a single dose has no effect and it is only after two to four weeks of use that its benefits are felt.


The use of passionflower to calm manifestations of anxiety such as sleep disturbances and palpitations is largely based on tradition. Passionflower is available as an infusion of leaves or as a dried powder of leaves and flowers; it is often associated with hawthorn, which also has sedative properties. The mechanisms of action are poorly understood.


Hop inflorescences contain a very fragrant essential oil and oxygenates which are responsible for the sedative effects of this plant.


Lemon balm leaf extracts have shown sedative (calming) activity in animal studies. But the substances responsible for these effects have not been formally identified.


The poppy (Papaver rhoeas), eschscholtzia (Eschscholtzia californica) or German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are said to have sedative properties. They are usually found in combination with other plants or substances in medicines or food supplements.


Due to their sedative effect, herbs used to reduce the effects of mild anxiety can cause reduced alertness during the day and be dangerous for people driving vehicles or machine tools.

The use of lemon balm and valerian requires special care. They can interact with many drugs and increase the effects of other plants. Likewise, it is better to avoid consuming alcoholic beverages.

Due to their tannin content, lemon balm and valerian should not be taken with drugs or food supplements intended to provide iron. Additionally, valerian should not be used in people who have liver problems.

If there is no improvement after four weeks of treatment, it is best to contact your doctor to consider another type of treatment.



Anxiety disorders can be treated with several types of medicines: certain antidepressants, anxiolytics (mainly benzodiazepines and buspirone) and other medicines (pregabalin). The first anxiolytics (tranquilizers) used were strong sedative drugs that relieved anxiety by reducing the patient’s state of alertness. The anxiety diminished at the cost of more or less permanent drowsiness. For about thirty years, better targeted drugs have appeared. They relieve anxiety symptoms without causing such side effects.

Medicines should only be prescribed in cases where anxiety disorders become disabling and hamper daily life. The basic treatment of anxiety disorders is mainly based on psychotherapies.


Certain serotonin reuptake inhibitor (IRS) and norepinephrine (IRSNA) antidepressant drugs are prescribed for certain debilitating forms of anxiety: generalized anxiety that has progressed for more than 6 months, panic disorders, social phobia. These are now the priority drugs prescribed. Their effectiveness against anxiety is not immediate; it takes at least two to four weeks to feel the benefits. A treatment period of at least six months seems necessary for a lasting cure. Stopping treatment is done gradually to avoid any side effects associated with stopping.

Duloxetine (CYMBALTA and generics) can cause liver problems and put you at risk of suicide. The health authorities consider that its balance benefit risk is unfavorable in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Medicines based on duloxetine are not covered by Health Insurance in this indication.



Generalized anxiety is a disease that disrupts the life of the person affected, but also, sometimes, that of those around him. Relatives can play a big role in showing understanding, and in encouraging the patient to take regular medication and undergo psychotherapy.


As in all mental illnesses, it is essential to encourage the person who suffers from generalized anxiety to seek treatment and to undergo psychotherapy.

Loneliness and inactivity make generalized anxiety worse. If a loved one has this disease, know that your attentive presence and your investment with them are already beneficial to them. Even if it does not seem obvious to you, your patience and your affection can make the difference and become a real support towards a well-being. Try not to judge or downplay negative feelings.


It is difficult to live with someone who is anxious. Their pessimism, tendency to dramatize everything can reflect on the entire family. Those around you may feel discouraged, feeling like they are constantly struggling to get them to view life in a positive light. It is a complex job that may require assistance. Do not hesitate to consult a psychotherapist if you feel that you are losing ground in the face of a loved one suffering from anxiety disorders, or to contact a patient association to express the difficulties encountered in a support group.


People with anxiety disorders know that their behavior is illogical and affects their lives. So they often come to feel inadequate and depressed.

Some symptoms associated with anxiety disorders can also lead to depression if not treated quickly enough. Depression frequently accompanies anxiety disorders.

People with anxiety disorders often try to control their anxiety by using alcohol or drugs. They can thus develop a problem of excessive consumption or dependence.

Conflicts can also arise with relatives, who do not always understand the person’s behavior. These conflicts affect the daily life of the person and his family.

Protection and prevention

It is not always possible to prevent anxiety disorders. However, if you have symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, you can take action today. Tips for maintaining good mental health will help you change some lifestyle habits. These changes will help you eliminate factors that are making or sustaining your condition.

Risk factors

Anxiety disorders do not have a single cause. A combination of several factors causes symptoms to appear. Here are some of those factors:

  • the inherited.
  • biological vulnerability: certain health problems, such as respiratory disease or hyperthyroidism (disease of the thyroid gland, which produces too many hormones).
  • the abuse or consumption of certain substances such as caffeine or alcohol, or certain stimulant drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines.
  • deprivation of caffeine, drugs or alcohol, in the case of a person in the process of withdrawal;
    the presence of stressors in the person’s life. These factors may be related to his family, social or professional environment.
  • the person’s temperament, which may for example have low self-esteem or difficulty adapting to different life situations.
  • history of mental health disorder. Having another mental health disorder, like depression, raises your risk for anxiety disorder.
  • childhood sexual abuse. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect during childhood is linked to anxiety disorders later in life.
  • trauma. Living through a traumatic event increases the risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can cause panic attacks.
  • negative life events. Stressful or negative life events, like losing a parent in early childhood, increase your risk for anxiety disorder.
  • severe illness or chronic health condition. Constant worry about your health or the health of a loved one, or caring for someone who is sick, can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious.

The information contained on the site does not in any way replace the advice of a professional health resource. If you have questions about your condition, consult a professional resource.

Sources: PinterPandai, NHS UK, Healt Line, American Psychological Association, Mind

Photo credit: Pixabay

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