While both fear and anxiety can provoke an arousal response, their other effects diverge. Very intense fear sometimes serves to "freeze" the body to protect it from harm, causing little or no change in heart rate and blocking the impulse to move. In anxiety, the physical changes caused by arousal lead to a second stage marked by thought patterns such as worry, dread, and mental replays of anxiety-arousing events.
Although anxiety disorders take several distinct forms, certain general symptoms tend to appear in all of them. When discussing their condition, people with anxiety disorders often report the following:
- cold/clammy hands
- dry mouth
- fast pulse
- lump in the throat
- muscle aches
- numbness/tingling of hands, feet, or other body part
- racing or pounding heart
- rapid breathing
- upset stomach
Feelings associated with anxiety include impatience, apprehensiveness, irritability, and decreased ability to concentrate. People suffering from anxiety may also worry, for no particular reason, that something bad is going to happen to themselves or their loved ones. Individuals with anxiety disorders may make such statements as:
- I always thought I was just a worrier, but I would worry about things for days, to the point where I couldn't even sleep.
- I had a very strong feeling of impending doom, like I was losing control in an extreme way.
- I was always worried that if I didn't do certain things, my parents were going to die.
- I felt as if my heart was going to explode, and I couldn't calm down.
Physical symptoms of this disorder include: trembling, twitching, muscle tension, headaches, irritability, sweating, nausea, hot flashes, light-headedness, and difficulty breathing. GAD is diagnosed when psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety last more than a month and are not accompanied by the symptoms of other anxiety disorders.