When we think of anxiety, most people envision feelings of nervousness or worry. While these are characteristics of what it feels like to be anxious, the effects of an anxiety disorder go far beyond mere apprehension. 

Anxiety can manifest in many different ways, depending on the particular disorder, such as: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

  • Panic disorder

  • Phobia-related disorders

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Just to name a few. All anxiety disorders, however, have certain signs and symptoms in common. 

Key Warning Signs of Anxiety

People who experience anxiety disorders feel intrusive feelings of fear. They may be mild or intense but will occur most days of the week for six months or more. These fears become so overwhelming that they interfere with the person's ability to function. As a result, the quality of relationships, social activities, and overall satisfaction with life decline.

In the throes of an anxiety disorder, you may make repeated, unsuccessful attempts to resolve these fears. Many sufferers turn to a substance such as alcohol, drugs, or tobacco -- or engage in self-destructive behaviors such as overeating -- in their attempts to manage anxiety symptoms. Drug use may relate to anxiety disorders, as both a cause and an effect.

Anxiety's Effects on the Body

Anxiety is more than just about how you feel. It can have a dramatic and intense influence on the physical body. People who have anxiety disorders may have substantial physical responses to situations or objects that don't seem intrinsically dangerous or threatening. It may seem as if the person is overreacting.

Examples of physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sweating or clamminess

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Insomnia 

  • Chest pain

  • Choking sensations

  • Trembling

  • Nausea

  • Stomach pain

  • Dizziness

These responses feel life-threatening, enough that the person experiencing them may become traumatized by the anxiety. As a result, they go to great lengths to avoid their triggers, which can impact relationships, social interactions, the ability to continue working, and more. For example, someone who becomes anxious when cornered will always stand or sit in a place that allows them to escape if necessary.

Therapists and other healthcare professionals who specialize in the treatment of anxiety use specific techniques and approaches to retrain the brain to help manage its response to triggers. 

Long-Term Effects of Anxiety

Anxiety is a chronic condition. Untreated, it can have a lasting impact, leading to long-term health problems such as:

  • Heart conditions

  • High blood pressure

  • Asthma and breathing problems

  • Stomach and digestive problems

  • Insomnia

  • Weight gain

  • Chronic muscle tension

A person who turns to drug use or drinks alcohol as a way to cope may also suffer chronic issues related to that use like liver disease. 

The impact of anxiety on the brain and the body is serious. The good news is that there are treatments that can help people overcome the immediate effects and reduce their risk of long term problems.