This overview is for information purposes only and must not be used for self diagnosis.

Anxiety is experienced when one feels a sense of worry, tense and is afraid about what is yet to occur including the future. It is a mental state that is set off by a sense of uncertain danger.  The disorder is characterized by cognitive elements and physical sensations. Racing heart and jitteriness are two of the many physical sensations experienced with feelings of worry and anticipation of a negative outcome for a future event as the disorder’s cognitive elements.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a state of severe worry and tension, regarding aspects of personal life such as career, health, and socializing. 
  • Panic disorder refers to a person experiencing sudden and repeated panic attacks. During a panic attack, a person may feel like their heart is racing and they can’t breathe. They may also start sweating or shaking, and have irrational fears about what is going to happen to them.
  • An individual is characterized with a phobia if he/she experiences disproportionate levels of fear and anxiety towards an object or event. In order to reduce the level of fear experienced, the individual attempts to avoid the said object/event.
  • People with phobias may actively avoid the object of their phobia. There are multiple types of phobias:
    • Specific phobias relate to anxiety surrounding particular situations, such as a phobia of spiders or needles.
    • Social anxiety was previously known as social phobia and refers to fear or aversion to social and performance-based situations. This stems from a fear of being judged or embarrassing one’s self in a social situation.
    • Agoraphobia refers to the fear of being in situations where one cannot easily escape or get help if needed. Agoraphobic people tend to avoid public transport and large open spaces.
    • Separation anxiety refers to an irrational fear of being separated from a person that you are attached to. People with separation anxiety tend to think that something bad will happen to the person they are attached to when they are not with them.
  • Selective mutism is a rarer disorder that usually occurs before the age of 5, wherein a person with fully developed language skills chooses not to speak in certain anxiety-inducing situations.

(Phobic disorders and selective mutism pulled from NIMH)

You could have anxiety if you experience some of the following; the best way to determine if you are, would be to receive a professional diagnosis.

  • Feel restless, on edge, and irritable.
  • Difficulty concentrating or controlling emotions. 
  • Fatigue
  • Trembling
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension


NOTE: These features are for educational purposes only and not to be used for self-diagnosis. If you or a loved one can relate to a number of features listed below, then please do use our therapist directory to find a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist that is right for you to receive a professional diagnosis.

  • Anxiety often involves worrying to an intense, excessive degree. Those worries can apply to any aspect of life, from social situations and family dynamics to physical health and professional concerns.
  • A person’s angst or dread can be drastically out of proportion to the actual challenges he or she is facing. People with Anxiety may believe that the worst-case scenario is inevitable.

What factors can be contributing causes?

  • Beyond genetics, childhood experiences such as early trauma or parental overprotection can play a role in causing anxiety.
  • In people with anxiety disorders, the amygdala, a structure in the brain that detects danger, can become overactive, triggering a threat where none really exists.

Can it be hereditary?

  • Anxiety is often accompanied by depression, and the two share an underlying genetic architecture.

  • A general practitioner (GP) or psychologist can diagnose anxiety by asking questions about a person’s medical history and symptoms.
  • The GP/psychologist will also inquire about a patient’s physical health to ensure that the anxious mood is not caused as a result of medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, or by factors such as drug or alcohol use.
  • The GP/psychologist will check the symptoms that the patient presents with against the standard criteria for anxiety before making a diagnosis.
  • A person has to present with an excessive sense of worry that occurs more often than not for a period of six months in order to receive an anxiety disorder diagnosis.

What is the recommended treatment?

  • Anxiety is often treated successfully using therapy, medication or both. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatment options, in which patients learn to identify problematic thought patterns and change how they respond. 
  • Phobic disorders can be mitigated using different types of exposure therapy wherein a person is exposed to their fear stimulus in a manner that aims not to bring them harm. People undergoing exposure therapy are taught how to handle the anxious feelings that this stimulus induces in them so that they are better equipped to face it in the future.
  • Medication can help patients control their anxiety: 
    • Clinicians may prescribe fast-acting benzodiazepines for limited periods of time. 
    • Beta-blockers offer another short-term solution, as they can curb troubling symptoms such as racing heartbeat or trembling hands 
    • Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or less frequently tricyclics, are used as a longer-term treatment and can take a few weeks or months to work.
  • As with all medications, patients should consult a doctor to understand the side effects of a particular drug and to safely transition on and off of the medication.
  • Lifestyle changes can help people who experience feelings of anxiety, but who don’t meet the clinical threshold for a diagnosis. 
  • Habits such as exercising, sleeping well, and limiting the amount of caffeine and alcohol consumed are also helpful.
  • Increasingly, researchers argue that mindfulness meditation is a successful technique as well. Taking deep breaths, observing one’s thoughts without judgment, and acknowledging the limits of one’s control can reduce feelings of tension.
  • Identifying the circumstances that trigger one’s anxiety, and then pushing back against anxious or irrational thoughts, can help to feel better prepared for the future.

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders reported globally.
  • According to the WHO estimates, 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety around the world.
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. (Source: Anxiety Depression Society of America)
  • In 2017, 3.4% of the Sri Lankan population was reported as having an anxiety disorder.

If you are experiencing any of the features of anxiety stated above, here are activities you can try at home to alleviate some of the symptoms;

  • Exercise
  • Engage in creative outlets such as writing, painting, or music
  • Talk to a family member or friend about how you are feeling
  • Practice Mindfulness
  • Practice Yoga
  • Gratitude Journaling
  • Engage in a well-balanced diet
  • Maintain a good sleep schedule 
  • Recognise what you can and can’t handle