Skip to Content

What does serious anxiety feel like?

Anxiety is a common condition that affects millions of people. It involves feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension. Anxiety can range from mild to severe. When anxiety becomes excessive, persistent, and starts to interfere with daily life, it is considered a serious anxiety disorder that requires treatment. But what exactly does serious anxiety feel like?

Physical symptoms

One of the main ways serious anxiety manifests is through physical symptoms. Since anxiety involves the activation of the body’s fight-or-flight response, people with anxiety often experience:

  • Racing heart rate
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or stomachaches

These physical symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable. People with anxiety may feel like they are constantly on edge, wired, or exhausted. The physical symptoms can come and go abruptly or persist for extended periods of time. In severe cases, people with anxiety may feel like they are dying or having a medical emergency.

Worry and rumination

Serious anxiety also involves excessive worry and rumination. People with anxiety have persistent anxious thoughts that are difficult to control or turn off. Common worries include:

  • Health and illness
  • Finances and money problems
  • Work or school performance
  • Social interactions
  • World or local events
  • Safety/danger

These worries often reach unreasonable proportions. For example, someone with health anxiety may be extremely preoccupied with normal body sensations or convinced that they have a serious undiagnosed illness. People with anxiety tend to catastrophize and envision worst case scenarios. They may spend hours ruminating over their fears and concerns.

Avoidance and distress

In an attempt to lessen their anxiety, people with serious anxiety often avoid situations or places that trigger their anxious thoughts. For example, someone with social anxiety may turn down invitations to social events to avoid feeling judged by others. While avoidance provides temporary relief, it can exacerbate anxiety over the long-term.

The combination of physical symptoms, excessive thoughts, and avoidance behaviors cause significant emotional distress. People with anxiety report feeling overwhelmed, irritable, restless, and constantly on-edge. Their anxiety makes it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, or enjoy everyday activities. Serious anxiety can completely disrupt a person’s ability to function at work, school, or in their relationships.

Panic attacks

Many people with serious anxiety also experience panic attacks. Panic attacks are episodes of sudden and intense physical anxiety symptoms that peak within minutes. Common symptoms include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Nausea
  • Chest tightness
  • Feeling of losing control or “going crazy”

Panic attacks are extremely frightening and can happen unexpectedly or in specific situations. People experiencing a panic attack often feel like they are having a heart attack or dying. After a panic attack, people may continue to worry and dread the possibility of another one occurring.

Impact on quality of life

When anxiety becomes severe, it can have a tremendously negative impact on overall quality of life. People with serious anxiety report:

  • Impaired social relationships
  • Decreased work or school performance
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Feeling constantly irritable or on-edge
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts in extreme cases

Anxiety disorders are associated with high rates of unemployment, disability, hospitalization, and reduced overall well-being. But with proper treatment, people with anxiety can get relief and regain control of their lives.

When to seek help

It’s important to seek help for anxiety when it becomes excessive, difficult to control, and starts interfering with your life. Signs that your anxiety may be serious enough to require professional help include:

  • Experiencing panic attacks
  • Avoiding everyday situations or activities because of anxiety
  • Spending hours each day worrying
  • Having anxiety that disrupts work, school, or relationships
  • Ongoing physical symptoms of anxiety
  • Using drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy coping methods to deal with anxiety
  • Feeling like anxiety is causing significant life problems or distress

Speaking with a mental health professional is the best way to get an accurate anxiety disorder diagnosis. They can help determine if your anxiety symptoms are reaching a clinical level requiring intervention. Most anxiety disorders are very treatable with therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several different types of clinical anxiety disorders. Common ones include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Excessive anxiety and worrying about everyday issues that is difficult to control. Physical anxiety symptoms are also present. People with GAD often feel anxious “all of the time.”

Social Anxiety Disorder

Extreme fear over being judged or embarrassed in social situations. People with social anxiety avoid groups, speaking in public, or talking to strangers out of fear of humiliation.

Panic Disorder

Recurring and unexpected panic attacks. After a panic attack, people with panic disorder worry intensely about having another one.

Specific Phobias

Intense fear related to a specific object or situation (e.g. flying, heights, animals). Phobias cause people to avoid their feared situation, leading to major distress.


Fear of situations where escape might be difficult. People with agoraphobia often avoid public spaces, traveling, or being home alone.

Separation Anxiety

Extreme fear about being separated from a loved one or caregiver. Separation anxiety mainly affects children but can also occur in adults.

These are just a few examples of anxiety disorders that cause significant life impairment. Each anxiety disorder has its own unique symptoms but they all involve uncontrolled anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Getting help for anxiety

Living with serious anxiety can be extremely difficult. But seeking professional mental health treatment is the first step towards feeling better. Effective treatments for anxiety disorders include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT focuses on changing unhealthy thought and behavior patterns that contribute to anxiety. It also teaches coping skills.
  • Exposure therapy – Gradually exposing yourself to feared situations in a controlled, safe way can decrease anxiety.
  • Anxiety medications – Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can help relieve anxiety symptoms.
  • Mindfulness-based practices – Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises help calm anxiety.
  • Support groups – Connecting with others experiencing anxiety can help reduce feelings of isolation.

A combination of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and support can help manage anxiety disorders. Though it takes work, most people with anxiety find meaningful relief and improvement through professional treatment and self-care.

When anxiety becomes a disorder

It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time. Stressful events, important decisions, and major life changes understandably provoke some anxiety. Mild, temporary anxiety is often just a normal part of life.

But anxiety crosses the line into a mental health problem when it:

  • Is excessive or unrealistic
  • Causes extreme distress
  • Persists for six months or longer
  • Interferes with normal life activities
  • Leads to avoidant or unhealthy coping behaviors

Seeking help for anxiety at the first signs of life impairment can prevent minor anxiety from snowballing into a much larger issue. Getting effective treatment helps halt anxiety symptoms before they spiral out of control.

Learning to manage anxiety

Though anxiety can feel unbearable, there are many effective strategies for managing symptoms, preventing flare-ups, and taking back control of your life. Self-care tips for anxiety include:

  • Following a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a nutrient-rich diet, adequate sleep, and stress management.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness.
  • Avoiding unhealthy coping behaviors like drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Making time for hobbies and social connection.
  • Learning your personal anxiety triggers and how to preparedly respond.
  • Letting yourself feel anxious without judging or reacting to those feelings.

While anxiety cannot always be cured, developing sustainable and effective coping strategies makes all the difference in management. With work, most people with anxiety can reduce their symptoms and prevent them from dominating life.

Seeking support from others

Support from loved ones can make a major difference when dealing with anxiety. People with anxiety often benefit from:

  • Confiding in trusted friends and family members
  • Attending support groups to connect with others experiencing anxiety
  • Educating family and friends on what it’s like to live with anxiety
  • Asking loved ones for specific types of support as needed
  • Communicating openly when you feel anxious or overwhelmed
  • Participating in social activities even if you feel anxious

Building a strong support system helps combat the isolation and loneliness that often accompanies anxiety. Therapists and mental health professionals also provide objective guidance and empathy.

Common myths and facts about anxiety

Despite being common, anxiety disorders are widely misunderstood. Here are some myths and facts about anxiety:

Myth: Anxiety is just stress, and everyone feels stressed sometimes.

Fact: While stress and anxiety are related, clinical anxiety disorders cause excessive worrying and life impairment beyond normal stress. Anxiety is more than just feeling temporarily stressed.

Myth: Anxiety is a sign of weakness or flaw in character.

Fact: Anxiety disorders have biological and environmental causes. They are not personal weaknesses or character flaws. Anxiety can happen to anyone.

Myth: Anxiety is not a real medical condition.

Fact: Research shows that anxiety disorders have distinct symptoms caused by underlying biological and neurological factors. Anxiety is a legitimate medical condition.

Myth: Anxiety is untreatable.

Fact: Though not always curable, anxiety disorders are very treatable through combinations of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and coping strategies.

Myth: People with anxiety are lazy or unmotivated.

Fact: Anxiety often causes people to avoid situations or obligations. But this avoidance is due to an uncontrollable mental health disorder, not laziness.


Serious anxiety involves pronounced physical symptoms, distressing thoughts, avoidance behaviors, and substantial life impairment. While anxiety can be extremely uncomfortable, the right professional help and self-care makes management possible. With work and support, most people with anxiety can feel dramatically better and regain satisfying, fulfilling lives.