Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 6/20/2022
Anxiety is an emotion that involves feelings of worry, tension and physical symptoms, including a rapid heart rate, sweating and trembling.
We all experience anxiety from time to time, whether it’s before meeting a new person or taking part in a test or audition. But can you self diagnose anxiety — or, more specifically, a recognized anxiety disorder — based on these symptoms?
Below, we’ve explained what anxiety is, as well as how regular feelings of anxiety can differ from specific anxiety disorders. We’ve also discussed some of the risks of self diagnosing yourself with an anxiety disorder or any other mental health condition.
Finally, we’ve explained your options for seeking professional help from a mental health provider if you think you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, uneasiness and fear that can develop in certain situations. When you feel anxious, you may notice that your thoughts and behavior changes and that you start to experience physical symptoms that don’t affect you when you feel relaxed.
It’s completely normal to experience feelings of anxiety from time to time. In fact, everyone goes through moments in which they feel anxious. You might experience anxiety:
Before meeting someone important in your professional life, such as a potential client, customer, employer or business partner.
Before talking to someone to whom you feel attracted, or when you’re preparing for a date or other event with this person.
While you’re preparing for an important test, exam, audition or other event that could have a significant impact on your future.
In situations that could cause embarrassment, such as social gatherings or events in which you’re required to speak in front of others.
When you’re placed in a dangerous or hazardous situation, such as one that could lead to physical injury or other forms of harm.
When you’re faced with an important decision for your life and don’t feel sure about your best choice.
When you’re anxious, it’s normal to experience both mental and physical symptoms. You might notice that your mind races and that you imagine bad outcomes before they could ever happen, or that you feel restless and unable to focus on the task or decision at hand.
You may also notice that your heart beats faster and harder than normal, that you start to sweat more, that your level of muscle tension increases, or that you just feel physically uncomfortable.
Feeling anxious is normal. It’s part of your body’s reaction to stress, and in certain cases, it can actually have a positive effect on your wellbeing by helping you to successfully cope with a new, unfamiliar and/or difficult situation.
However, when you develop anxiety that’s severe, frequent or overwhelming, it could be a sign that you have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that can involve severe, recurrent or problematic feelings of anxiety. People with anxiety disorders often have anxiety that doesn’t improve on its own and, in some cases, may become more severe over time.
Mental health professionals recognize several different anxiety disorders, including:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is a common anxiety disorder that involves ongoing feelings of anxiety and worry. If you have GAD, you may experience symptoms of anxiety that continue for months or years at a time.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD, or social phobia). This anxiety disorder involves a fear of being judged, watched or negatively perceived by others. If you have social anxiety disorder, you may find it difficult to take part in everyday activities that involve other people.
Panic disorder. This disorder involves severe, unexpected panic attacks — attacks that involve sudden, intense feelings of fear and a loss of control. Many people affected by panic disorder experience panic attacks in situations without any source of danger.
Separation anxiety disorder. This disorder, which is common in children, involves fear of being separated from loved ones or other attachment figures. It can cause emotional issues such as nightmares, as well as physical symptoms when a person is alone.
Phobia-related disorders. These are intense fears or feelings of anxiety that occur in certain situations or around specific objects. Common phobias include fears of heights, specific insects or animals, blood, enclosed spaces or open spaces.
Our detailed guide to anxiety disorders offers more information about these specific disorders, as well as the effects that they may have on your daily life and wellbeing.
Anxiety is a normal emotion. It’s something that we all feel, and we often experience it for good reasons. In some situations, anxiety can assist us in coping with difficult moments in life, and in finding the willpower to focus, move forward and make progress.
If you feel anxious before a test, a major social situation or any other big event in your life, this doesn’t mean that you have a type of anxiety disorder. These feelings are normal, and it might actually be unusual not to feel at least somewhat anxious in these situations.
Anxiety disorders have clear, specific symptoms and defined diagnostic criteria. For example, common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
Finding it difficult to concentrate on specific tasks
Frequently feeling on-edge, wound-up and/or restless
Feelings of irritability and a “short fuse”
Difficulty controlling your worries and concerns
Feeling fatigued and physically tired easily
Finding it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep
Headaches, muscle aches and other physical issues
Just about everyone experiences one or several of these symptoms every now and then. But for people with generalized anxiety disorder, these symptoms can be intense, unforgiving and virtually constant, resulting in a significant impact on quality of life.
Put simply, occasionally worrying about something or feeling restless is very different from being affected by an anxiety disorder that dominates your thoughts and changes your behavior.
When you’re feeling anxious, especially when your feelings are severe, it’s easy to assume that you must have an anxiety disorder by reading a list of symptoms and consulting “Dr. Google” for advice.
There are even online anxiety self-tests (most of which have little scientific validity) that you can use to measure your anxiety levels and check your risk for anxiety disorders.
It’s okay to read about anxiety online, and it’s also totally alright to check symptom lists to see if you have any major anxiety symptoms. However, you shouldn’t use this information to diagnose yourself with anxiety for several reasons.
First, assessing yourself for anxiety isn’t an accurate process, and it rarely results in a helpful or accurate diagnosis. Because you’re already feeling anxious, you may be more prone to viewing yourself as suffering from symptoms that don’t truly affect you.
Second, diagnosing yourself with an anxiety disorder may end up making your existing feelings of anxiety worse. After all, it’s easy to panic when you assume you have an anxiety disorder — a behavior that may cause you to make irrational, unsafe decisions.
Third, when you diagnose yourself with a mental illness, you create a risk of missing a different mood or personality disorder that could be responsible for your symptoms.
For example, many symptoms of anxiety are similar to those of major depression — a common, serious mood disorder that affects tens of millions of US adults every year. Common symptoms of depression include irritability, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and persistent anxious moods.
Put simply, by assuming that you have an anxiety disorder based solely on feelings of anxiety, you may gloss over the signs of a similar but different mental health issue that requires expert care and treatment.
This could make your mental health worse and increase the risk of your symptoms becoming more severe as the underlying issue goes untreated.
Although occasional feelings of anxiety are normal, anxiety that constantly affects you and gets in the way of your daily activities isn’t. In fact, it’s often a sign that something isn’t right.
If you often experience the symptoms of anxiety in women and think you might have an anxiety disorder, the best thing that you can do is to reach out to a mental health provider to talk about how you feel and undergo an evaluation.
You can do this by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, or by meeting directly with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist in your local area.
You can also take part in an online evaluation with a licensed provider from your home by using our online psychiatry services.
In order to diagnose you with an anxiety disorder, your mental health provider will likely ask you about your symptoms and your personal history of anxiety. You may be asked questions about your personal medical history, including:
Whether you’ve previously been diagnosed with a mental illness
If you have any physical health conditions that require treatment
Whether you currently use or have recently used any medications
If you have a substance use disorder, including alcohol abuse
If you’ve recently experienced a traumatic event or major life change
Your mental health provider may also ask if you have a family history of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression or other mental disorders.
Talking about your feelings and personal history can feel difficult, but it’s important to be honest and transparent with your healthcare provider. Try to remember that they’re a professional, and that their goal is to make an accurate anxiety diagnosis, not to judge you in any way.
As part of the diagnosis process, you may be required to complete a physical examination and mental health screening. Your provider may ask you to complete a questionnaire to give them as much information as possible about your symptoms and their effects on your life.
If your healthcare provider thinks that a physical condition — such as thyroid disease — is causing or contributing to your anxiety, they may ask you to take a blood test.
Most of the time, the process of going through a mental health evaluation is straightforward and simple. There’s no need for you to prepare for the screening ahead of time — instead, just focus on giving complete, honest answers to your mental health provider.
If you have an anxiety disorder, your mental health provider may prescribe medication to control your symptoms and/or recommend that you take part in psychotherapy.
Several types of medication are used to treat anxiety disorders. Your provider may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication called a benzodiazepine, an antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or a beta-blocker medication such as propranolol.
These medications all work in different ways to control the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety. There’s no “ideal” medication for everyone affected by anxiety, and you may need to try more than one medication before identifying the one that works best for you.
Certain anxiety medications, such as antidepressants, may take several weeks to start working properly.
If you’re prescribed medication for anxiety, make sure to follow the instructions provided by your mental health provider and inform them if you experience any side effects, or if you feel worried that your medication isn’t working effectively.
Our guide to medications for anxiety goes into more detail about how these medications work to relieve anxiety symptoms, their potential side effects, key differences and more.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a form of treatment that involves identifying and changing the emotions, thoughts and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. Your mental health provider may suggest a combination of medication and therapy to treat your anxiety symptoms.
Several types of talk therapy are used to treat anxiety disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and exposure therapy. You might need to participate in therapy for several months to experience noticeable improvements.
Our guide to therapy for anxiety provides more information about how psychotherapy works, as well as its unique benefits for several common anxiety disorders.
It’s normal to experience anxiety from time to time. When you feel anxious, these feelings are often easy to identify. However, it’s wrong to assume that you have an anxiety disorder simply because you feel anxious at certain moments in your life.
If you have persistent or extreme anxiety symptoms, or if you experience intense fear in some situations, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional. They’ll be able to evaluate you and, if appropriate, formally diagnose you with an anxiety disorder.
They may also provide treatment in the form of medication, psychotherapy or suggestions that can help you to relieve your symptoms and live a happier, healthier life.
If you’d like to seek help for anxiety from home, you can connect with a licensed provider using our online mental health services and access therapy, medication and other forms of help.
You can also learn more about coping with anxiety using our range of free online mental health resources.