8 Common Symptoms of Anxiety

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

We categorize the symptoms of anxiety according to certain specific features and this tends to affect the way we treat them. There is, however, considerable overlap in the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Here are eight symptoms are characteristic of them all.

Avoidance concept man sticking his head in the sand.


Anything that makes us feel uncomfortable tends to be something to try and avoid. This fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in when we encounter situations or objects that cause anxiety arousal.

Woman taking her pulse on wrist.

Physical arousal

This is all part of fight-or-flight. The body switches into its action settings and as a result we feel the associated sensations of increased pulse and breathing rates, tingling in the hands and feet and sweating. If our anxiety is very pronounced, we can experience difficulties in breathing, knots in the stomach, nausea, dizziness and even visual disturbances.

Brain active with thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts

These are constant reminders of the issues that cause anxiety and embarrassment. In most anxiety disorders they lead to a kind of predictive anxiety, where the person is certain they won’t cope. In OCD, the thoughts can be highly distressing.

Anxious woman on smartphone.


People with anxiety are often highly tuned to their environment and become very alert to circumstances that may cause them to feel anxious or may threaten their escape or avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations.

Couples having lunch together.

Seeking safety

People with anxiety may never go out unless they are with a partner. They may avoid eye contact to reduce the chance of social interaction or they may ask a lot of questions in order to avoid focus on themselves. These may provide temporary relief, but they are a constant reminder to the person that the situation is unsafe and they have to do something to cope with it.

Woman feeling threatened in a parking garage.

Threat estimation

Two of the most common features of anxiety are the overestimation of threat and the underestimation of being able to cope with them.

Worried man.


Even when away from situations that provoke anxiety, the anxious person may spend a lot of time reflecting on and worrying about past and future situations. Typically, various ‘what if’ scenarios occupy their thoughts.

Depressed man with his head in his hands.

Low mood

Anxiety can be exhausting. Anxiety and depression are commonly related, but even if the symptoms of depression are sub-clinical, the person with anxiety will often experience low moods because they feel drained of confidence and see no particular relief in the future.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.