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What Is Anxiety? - Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Do you find yourself constantly worrying about things? Do you feel like you are always on edge and unable to relax? If so, you may be experiencing anxiety. Learn more about the symptoms and causes of anxiety.

Definition

Anxiety is best defined as an intense feeling of unease, worry, and fear. It is common to feel anxiety when faced with a challenging situation. A job interview, the arrival of a new baby, having a spouse diagnosed with cancer, and moving away from home to attend college are situations where anxiety is common.

A small amount of anxiety can be useful. Feeling anxious about a job interview can motivate you to recheck your resume, look up information about the company, and prepare yourself for the interview. Feeling anxious about the arrival of a new baby might motivate you to take parenting classes, build a support network of experienced parents, and stay alert once the baby arrives. Being anxious about your surroundings can keep you out of a dangerous situation.

For most of us, the anxiety we feel is just temporary. Once we adjust to the new situation or the circumstances that caused the anxiety are removed, we no longer feel anxious. However, for some the feelings of anxiety don't go away, even if you remove the stressors. The constant feelings of worry and unease can be overwhelming and interfere with the ability to function in everyday life. When this happens, it is a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms

In addition to the intense feelings of worry, unease, and fear, other symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Avoiding certain situations or activities because they make you feel anxious
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling that things have to be done in a specific way or else something bad is going to happen
  • Fears about irrational things or situations
  • Chest pains or heart palpitations
  • Trouble breathing
  • Frequent headaches
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating

Causes

Research suggests that anxiety may be caused by factors within the environment, medical factors, genetic predisposition, substance use, or a combination of factors. These can include:

  • Stress from school or work
  • Financial problems
  • Divorce or the termination of a close relationship
  • Death of a loved one
  • Traumatic experiences, such as sexual assault, physical abuse, and being a victim of a crime
  • Low oxygen levels in high altitude areas

Anxiety disorders may be associated with a variety of medical conditions, such as epilepsy, asthma, and anemia. Anxiety can also be the result of:

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