Agitation, Anxiety, Restlessness Symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated January 28, 2022

agitation anxiety symptoms

Agitation, anxiety, restlessness, nervous excitement, hyper, and difficulty sitting still are common signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and panic attacks

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and feeling agitated, restless, antsy, and can't sit still.

Agitation anxiety symptoms common descriptions:

  • Agitation.
  • Restlessness.
  • Nervous excitement.
  • An unusual state of anxiousness that isn’t correlated to anything you are thinking or doing.
  • An uncomfortable, nervous energy feeling even though you haven’t been anxious.
  • You feel a sudden state of nervous excitement that you can’t associate with anything you are thinking or doing.
  • It can also feel like uncontrollable nervousness.
  • You have difficulty sitting still.
  • Nervous fidgeting.
  • You are having problems focusing or concentrating because of the nervous energy.
  • You feel uncomfortably hyper.
  • You also might feel as though you have an odd, uncomfortable feeling running through your body, such as uncomfortable nervous energy.
  • It can also feel as though you are on the edge of losing it or going over the edge.
  • It is also often described as feeling almost manic (overly and uncontrollably excited).
  • It can also feel as if you are on the verge of panic yet, you weren’t behaving anxiously.
  • It can also feel like you are about to explode with nervous excitement.

This symptom can occur rarely, frequently, or persistently.

Agitation can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms or occur by itself.

It can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

Anxiety agitation can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This symptom can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background to your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

The agitation and nervous excitement anxiety symptom can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, when trying to relax, when resting or doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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What causes agitation anxiety symptoms and signs?

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Click the link for Additional Medical Advisory Information.

1. Stress response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, which causes many body-wide changes that increase the body’s ability to deal with a threat – to either fight or flee.

The stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).[1][2][3][4]

Read our “Stress Response” article for more information about the many body-wide changes.

Some of these stress response changes include:

  • Stimulates the nervous system, which includes certain parts of the brain.
  • Quickly converts the body’s energy stores into blood sugar so that the body has immediate energy.
  • Increases activity in the fear center of the brain (amygdala and others) and decreases activity in the rationalization areas of the brain (cortex and others).

To name a few.

These sudden changes can create an agitated, nervous excitement feeling.

If you aren’t aware of your behavior, it’s easy to trigger a stress response and not be aware that you did.

This symptom is common for anxious people who aren’t aware of their anxious behavior.

This symptom is also common for those who have been under stress, since stress also activates the stress response and its many body-wide changes.

2. Stress-response hyperstimulation (chronic stress)

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from effects caused by the stress response.

When stress responses occur too frequently, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t complete its recovery.

Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[5][6][7]

Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.

Having episodes of unexplained agitation and nervous excitement are common indications of hyperstimulation (chronic stress).

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect how we feel.

3. Behavior

Unhealthy behavior can also cause issues with agitation and nervous excitement. Many underlying factors of anxiety have a behavioral component that can contribute to this symptom. For instance:

Unrealistic expectations - a common behavior associated with the cause of psychological and emotional symptoms, such as agitation.

Having unrealistic expectations can fuel agitation, anger, impatience, and irritability if we don’t think a person, situation, or circumstance lived up to our expectations.

Issues with anger, disappointment, frustration, rigid/black and white thinking, impatience, pessimism, and so on, can all contribute to feeling agitated.

Connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists for more information about the underlying factors that could be contributing to this symptom for you.

4. Other factors

Associated with anxiety, there are other factors that can cause and contribute to this symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

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Treatment For Anxiety Agitation

When agitation symptoms are caused by other factors, addressing the cause should alleviate the symptom.

When this symptom is caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this anxiety symptom should subside.

Keep in mind it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), we need to eliminate hyperstimulation before this symptom will subside.

Reducing stress, increasing rest, getting good sleep, regular deep relaxation, regular mild to moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet, and containing anxious behavior can help reduce and eventually eliminate hyperstimulation (chronic stress) and its symptoms, including agitation and nervous excitement.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, all symptoms of hyperstimulation subside, including this one.


Agitation is a common indication of stress and chronic stress (hyperstimulation). So, instead of worrying about it, or worse fighting it, passively accepting this symptom can reduce its impact.

Since worrying and distressing about anxiety symptoms increases stress, these behaviors can prolong them rather than eliminate them.

If you’d like more information about how to eliminate anxiety symptoms, including agitation and nervous excitement, the Recovery Support area of our website has more in-depth information about containment, passive acceptance, the challenges of eliminating hyperstimulation and its symptoms, how to extinguish fears, other anxiety disorder recovery tips and strategies, and so much more.


Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety and stress are the number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist. Dealing with your underlying factors, which we call Level Two recovery, is the most important work overall if you want to overcome issues with anxiety.

If you are having difficulty containing, eliminating your symptoms, overcoming your anxiety issues, overcoming a fear of anxiety and its strong feelings, or have what seems like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

All of our recommended therapists have personally experienced anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Masters Degree and above professional training makes them a good choice when wanting to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, its symptoms, and worry.

Working with a therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder.[8][9]


In an online poll we conducted, 93 percent of respondents said they had this symptom because of their anxiety.

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Research page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Agitation Anxiety Symptoms.


1. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

3. "The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis." DUJS Online. N.p., 03 Feb. 2011. Web. 19 May 2016.

4. "Stress." University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.

5. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

6. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

7. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

8. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

9. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.