Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario

General Facts

Millions of Canadians will develop an overwhelming anxiety condition in their lifetime. Over 12% of Canadians will be affected, causing mild to severe impairment. There are many different types of anxiety.

People with anxiety often feel very fearful but they have difficulty identifying the source of their feelings of fear. People commonly experience anxiety as feelings of unease and dread in anticipation of an ambiguous event. Whereas feelings of fear are often in response to a specific threat (e.g., an unpaid bill), the source of feelings of anxiety is often elusive. In addition, the fear response is usually time limited (e.g., it is only experienced in the presence of something feared, like a growling dog) whereas individuals who experience anxiety generally describe the feelings as prolonged and persistent, without a clear beginning and end. The source of feelings of anxiety is not only difficult to identify but the threat is not usually in the near future or connected to an identifiable event. In addition, fear is usually experienced in response to an external event (e.g., an exam), whereas anxiety is often in response to internal cue (e.g., a sense of dread or doom).

Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life that alerts people to possible dangerous events; in this way, anxiety can be helpful. Everyone at some point feels “anxious” but people with anxiety conditions experience feelings of anxiety that are excessive and often unrealistic. These feelings are disruptive and interfere with family relationships, school and work activities, social interaction and recreation.

Because people with anxiety conditions generally experience excessive fear, worry or anxiety for prolonged periods of time, they may develop rituals that reduce their feelings of anxiety or avoid places and situations that might cause them to feel anxious.

Although there are no symptoms exclusively associated with anxiety conditions, individuals who experience anxiety conditions often report similar symptoms. It is important to talk to your doctor about these symptoms because while they may indicate an underlying medical condition, they may also help your doctor to identify whether or not you are experiencing an anxiety condition. It is also important to remember that individuals can have an anxiety condition, without experiencing any of the symptoms listed below.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Light-headedness
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain / Tightness in chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing (rapid breath, short of breath, difficulty catching breath)
  • Dry mouth
  • Upset stomach: churning, nausea, diarrhea, gas, pain
  • Difficulty swallowing / lump in throat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Unsteady
  • Restless
  • Frequent urination
  • Hot flashes / Chills
  • Tremors
  • Cold and clammy palms
  • Tingling / Pins and Needles

Mental Symptoms:

  • Sense of detachment: feeling unconnected from the world around you
  • Insomnia
  • Unable to concentrate / Selective attention
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Agitated
  • Fatigued
  • Irritable
  • Fearful
  • Communication difficulties (i.e., cannot think of the words you want to use)
  • Fear that you are going crazy
  • Self-consciousness

References: Rachman, S. (2004) Anxiety (2nd ed). New York: Psychology Press Ltd