Causes and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

May 3, 2019

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid,

but he who conquers fear.

Nelson Mandela

Anxiety disorders have become extremely common in our society. Nearly 20% of U.S. adults have suffered from an anxiety disorder within the past year, and roughly one-third of all U.S. adults have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. It’s therefore clear that the issue demands more attention than it has been given. [1] Despite the prevalence of anxiety, the topic (along with many other mental health issues) is rarely discussed openly. Yet, it continues to be a reality for many individuals – especially those juggling many responsibilities, including a demanding career.

While occasional anxiety is a normal aspect of life, prolonged anxiety is actually considered a disorder. More specifically, there are various anxiety disorders, each with its own symptoms and causes. With so many different types of anxiety and each affecting people differently, a variety of approaches to treatment may be employed to help combat the condition. Although each case requires an individualized treatment plan, there are some commonalities among approaches that tend to benefit the majority of anxiety sufferers.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at anxiety including its types, symptoms, and long-term effects, as well as how it can be treated effectively through clinically proven methods used by Cenegenics physicians.

Are Stress & Anxiety the Same?

The terms anxiety and stress are often used interchangeably and, while there is some overlap among the two, they also have a number of key differences. Understanding the ways in which anxiety differs from stress is essential to treating the condition effectively.

First, let’s consider how stress and anxiety are similar. Both are negative emotional experiences that can cause a host of unpleasant mental and physical symptoms, such as energy depletion, irritability, and sleep disturbance. Moreover, stress and anxiety are linked with recurrent stress often morphing into an anxiety disorder.

Yet, the key difference between stress and anxiety is that while stress is generally a short-term reaction to an isolated, exterior condition, anxiety is a sustained mental illness that continues to persist even after the threat is gone. Of course, stress can also persist over a long period of time, and is known as “chronic stress.” Thus, it’s critical to understand another important difference between the two conditions. While stress is usually a result of external pressures, anxiety typically manifests internally.

Also, individuals who suffer from stress and anxiety tend to describe the effects of the conditions as being slightly different. Stress has been described as a feeling of immense mental or emotional pressure, whereas anxiety is characterized as general unease, worry, or fear. [2] If you find yourself nervous without being able to pinpoint a specific cause versus, say, work-related issues or family problems, you are most likely experiencing anxiety.

With this in mind, let’s move on to explore the different types of anxiety disorders.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, most of which can be categorized into the following groups.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry sustained for a period of six months or more. The anxiety can impact an individual’s social life and work performance and may be accompanied by muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, sleep issues, fatigue, feeling restless or on-edge, and, most commonly, apprehension.

Panic Disorder

While a person with panic disorder can suffer from symptoms similar to those seen in GAD, they also experience episodic attacks. These panic attacks come on abruptly, causing immense fear. They can be triggered by a specific object or situation or may happen unexpectedly. Panic attacks create feelings of impending doom, along with physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, accelerated heart rate or heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.

Phobia-Related Disorders

A phobia is an intense fear of a specific situation or object. While it is natural to fear certain circumstances, a phobia is different in that the fear is out of proportion with the reasonable likelihood of any danger being presented by a situation or object. One example is a social anxiety disorder, previously referred to as social phobia, in which people fear social settings or giving performances. [3]

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, is a chronic disorder in which an individual has uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that interfere with your day-to-day life. Obsessions are recurrent thoughts or impulses that cause distress, anxiety, or disgust. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors performed in response to an obsession to alleviate stress. This can include cleaning, repeating, checking, ordering and arranging, and mental compulsions.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Mature man looking at phone while woman sits on opposite side of bed feeling tense experiencing anxiety and PTSD

Each person experiences anxiety differently, which is why having a comprehensive understanding of the condition’s possible symptoms can be helpful for determining whether you could be experiencing it. Some of the common symptoms and signs of anxiety are:

  • Feeling tense, nervous, or restless
  • Avoidance of known anxiety triggers
  • A sense of panic or doom
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Excessive sweating or trembling
  • Racing thoughts; difficulty controlling fears
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Difficulty thinking about anything other than present worries [4]

Causes of Anxiety

Because there are so many possible contributors to anxiety, a specific cause can be difficult to pinpoint. In some cases, anxiety can be a side effect of medication. It is also linked to medical conditions such as respiratory disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), thyroid issues, heart disease, and diabetes.

Additionally, anxiety can be a symptom of drug misuse or withdrawal. Nonetheless, anxiety doesn’t always have a medical cause. In these cases, researchers believe that anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors which can include genes, external stressors, and diet. [5]

Causes of Anxiety

Common factors that can cause anxiety include: 

  • Stress from work or school
  • Stress caused by personal relationships or marriage
  • Financial stress
  • Serious mental illness
  • Side effect of medication
  • Emotional trauma
  • Genetic makeup
  • Poor nutrition

Additionally, researchers are also finding that there are some risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Shyness during childhood
  • Exposure to stressful or negative events during childhood or early adulthood
  • A family history of anxiety [6]

As you might imagine, determining one’s source of anxiety can be a challenging task. For this reason, Cenegenics physicians use an all-encompassing approach to treat the condition as thoroughly as possible while also addressing some of the potential contributing factors behind the anxiety. Combatting anxiety is especially critical to wellness and longevity when we consider its potential impact on a person’s health, as discussed in the upcoming section.

Understanding Anxiety – In Conclusion

Anxiety and stress are often used interchangeably, although they have numerous differences. Stress is generally short-term, although instances of recurring stress can become chronic. Anxiety is characterized by unease, worry, or fear and often manifests internally.

Cenegenics understands that no matter how your anxiety manifests, it can have detrimental effects on your long-term health including suppressed immune system function, increased risk of obesity, heart attack and stroke, loss of sleep, and problems with weight management. Cenegenics physicians use a comprehensive approach to treat your anxiety, while also addressing possible causes of the condition.

Next Steps to Reducing Your Anxiety with Cenegenics

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Key Resources

This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine V1 for nutrition, mastering healthy aging, exercise and hormone replacement therapy

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise, and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine V2 for nutrition, mastering healthy aging, exercise and hormone replacement therapy

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 2: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise, and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

Textbook Authors:

Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT

Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.

Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS

Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

Additional Resources

Understanding Mental Acuity: Improving Focus, Memory, and Concentration with Cenegenics

Understanding Chronic Stress

Understanding How to Deal with Stressors

How to Relieve Stress with Cenegenics

What Is Age Management Medicine?

Key to Health & Wellness: What is Cenegenics?


[1] National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from URL: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

[2] “How to deal with stress.” National Health Service. March 17 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/

[3] “Anxiety Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health. July 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

[4] “Anxiety disorders.” Mayo Clinic. 04 May 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

[5] “Anxiety Causes.” Healthline. Retrieved from URL: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety-causes

[6] National Institute of Mental Health, see above.

Contributor: Rudy Inaba Vice President of Health Performance

Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Vice President of Health Performance. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 19 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.

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