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4 min read

How bad can anxiety get? Effects of Severe Anxiety Disorders on the Body

a bustling subway causing anxiety

Life as a human being is stressful, and many of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to manage that stress. That being said, anxiety disorders are fairly common and may have you wondering how much you should worry about the effects of anxiety (this thought can be yet another symptom of anxiety).

In this article, we'll explore the different types of anxiety disorders, talk about common causes of anxiety disorders, and share how you can best manage the symptoms of excessive anxiety.

What causes anxiety?

Feeling anxious is different from experiencing a full-blown anxiety disorder, but there are similarities. An anxiety disorder must be diagnosed under the criteria of the diagnostic and statistical manual by a mental health professional. Researchers have not isolated a single cause of anxiety disorders, but attribute them to several potential risk factors.

Medical Causes

Certain health conditions can increase the risk of anxiety disorders, including chronic illnesses, thyroid disease, and cancer. Brain chemistry and structure can also be factors in developing anxiety disorders.

Anxiety Can Run in Families

As with many mental disorders, there is a genetic component to anxiety disorders. If you have a family member who was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your chances of experiencing anxiety disorders may be higher than most.

Traumatic Events

People who have experienced trauma in their lives, including abuse, displacement, natural disasters, and other challenges, can be more susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder.

Environmental Events

A stressful and negative life, or even periods of high stress, can lead to an increased chance of developing an anxiety disorder.

Types of Severe Anxiety

Anxiety disorders go above and beyond occasional bouts of worry or fear. These disorders occur when your body overreacts to stress triggers, you can't control responses to stress, and anxiety interferes with your day-to-day function. Untreated anxiety disorders can cause a lot of challenges, including both mental health and physical symptoms. Here are some anxiety disorders that can become severe if not addressed.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is when an individual experiences excessive anxiety around social situations. This could be in terms of performance in front of others, or simply being in a group. In more severe cases, people with social anxiety disorder may experience extreme disruption in their day-to-day lives, or their social connections.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with generalized anxiety disorder may experience persistent fear or worry that does not match the situation. You may worry about many different things without a stressor to trigger anxiety. This constant worry can cause irritation, a lack of focus, and sleeplessness.

Panic Disorder

With panic disorder, the individual experiences panic attacks, periods where the body has an extreme stress response that includes feelings of dissociation, chest pain, sweating, choking, and feeling like you're going to die. These panic attacks can come out of seemingly nowhere or in response to a trigger.

Some other anxiety disorders include things like separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and other phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder was at one time considered an anxiety disorder but has been reclassified as a trauma/stressor disorder.

Mild, Moderate, and Severe Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety disorders can cause many physical and cognitive symptoms. For some, these symptoms may be persistent, others may experience periods of remission, and then a reoccurrence during excessive stress.

Physical Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder

Physical anxiety symptoms may include:

  • Rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath, shallow breathing
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle aches, muscle tension
  • Stomach pain/gastrointestinal issues
  • Weight gain or loss

Cognitive Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder

Cognitive and emotional symptoms of anxiety disorder may include:

  • Constant worry
  • Irrational fear, feeling that "something is going to go wrong"
  • Forgetting important appointments, lack of focus
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts

Effects on Life and Relationships

Anxiety disorder can harm daily life as well as your relationships with others. In severe cases of social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, a person may find that they avoid social situations altogether, and have difficulty maintaining a personal life. It can be a struggle to go to work, to the store, or participate in other normal daily activities.

People who experience these symptoms may also find themselves in a negative feedback loop. They become so afraid of experiencing panic attacks that they end up triggering more panic attacks. This can then create a social phobia that keeps them isolated for fear of panic in public spaces.

Why It's Important to Treat Anxiety Disorders

Some individuals feel that they can just "power through" panic attacks and other symptoms of anxiety disorders. However, an untreated anxiety disorder over time can lead to physical health conditions as well as harm mental health. A prolonged, long-term stress response can lead to (or contribute to) issues such as:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other kinds of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ulcers
  • Underactive or overactive immune system
  • Other mental health problems, like depression

Effective Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders

The good news is that anxiety disorders are treatable. Many people with an anxiety disorder manage symptoms through talk therapy, anti-anxiety medications, lifestyle habits, or a combination of the three. A mental health therapist can guide you toward the right formula for managing anxiety.

Talk Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based practice that is effective for the treatment of chronic anxiety and excessive worry of an anxiety disorder. This type of therapy uses coping skills and relaxation techniques to shift negative thoughts into more positive directions. Exposure therapy is another common therapy used for the treatment of anxiety. Exposure therapy uses a guided and controlled approach to expose patients to their fears and create resilience.


For intense anxiety, a medical professional may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to manage symptoms. This is generally done alongside talk therapy.

Lifestyle Management

A mental health professional may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help manage the symptoms of anxiety. This can include things like improving sleep hygiene, getting regular exercise, and incorporating mindfulness practices.

Final Thoughts on Anxiety and Other Mental Disorders

Intense anxiety caused by things like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and other specific phobias can lead to serious illness in the long term if not treated. However, there are effective treatments available, and a therapist can help you learn coping skills to guard against situations that trigger anxiety for you. There is no need to manage severe anxiety on your own, talk to a therapist about ways you can learn to relax and reduce anxiety in your life.

Therapy for Anxiety in Austin, TX

Long-term anxiety can take a toll on both your mental and physical health. With therapy, you can take control and help your body better regulate negative feelings.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our Austin talk therapists are all doctoral-level psychotherapists who use the most effective evidence-based practices for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Reach out today and our patient coordinator will help you find the therapist who can facilitate emotional healing, and pave the way to a healthier and happier future.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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