ByCat Lafuente/Updated: May 8, 2017 7:42 pm EDT
Virtually everyone will get anxious about something at some point in their lives; it's a natural, healthy emotion we experience when we're faced with stressful and worrisome events. Once the situation is resolved — your test came back negative, you passed the class, you got the job — the anxiety naturally recedes.
But for some people, myself included, the anxiety might not go anywhere. We find ourselves worrying about something else now and unable to relax or calm down, in spite of the fact that the stressor has been removed. Or maybe there never was a major stressor at all and we're fixating on minor issues as if they were more major. Perhaps there was never a worrisome event to stress out about but we're just always concerned about something.
Sounds familiar? If so, read on about these signs that you may, like me, have an anxiety disorder.
You have trouble sleeping
Everyone needs a healthy amount of sleep in order to function. But if you have an anxiety disorder, it may be robbing you of your precious beauty rest. "Sometimes insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, is a strictly physical condition," noted Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, a New York City-based therapist. He told me, "However, for some, routine difficulty in falling or staying asleep may have emotional roots. If you find your sleep disrupted then it may be helpful to ask yourself, how am I feeling? And do I have any worries or concerns about something that happened today or is to happen soon?" So you'll want to find the root of your insomnia before it makes your anxiety worse.
And it can really be a vicious cycle. Julienne B. Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor, described it, telling me: "You wake up tired but go a 'hundred miles an hour' until you're exhausted and you fall into bed... and then you can't fall asleep or stay asleep. You get up and repeat the whole pattern again. If you find yourself laying awake worrying about money, or what you have to do the next day, or about nothing in particular, this is often a sign of an anxiety disorder." Check in with your doctor if you're struggling with sleep disruption.
You have physical symptoms
Anxiety, although it is a mental condition, has a variety of physical symptoms. Dr. Angela Kenzslowe, clinical psychologist and founder of Purple Heart Behavioral Health, LLC, told me, "Anxiety is our body's natural reaction to real or perceived danger — it is our flight or fight response. When we have anxiety our body responds with physical sensations such as increased heart rate, quick and shallow breaths, increased adrenaline, feelings of impending doom, increased muscle tension, increased perspiration, lightheadedness, and chest pains." While you may not experience all of these, if you're experiencing some of them regularly it could be a sign of a disorder.
Additionally, Lisa Herman, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist with expertise in anxiety related disorders, told me you'll know you're anxious if "you have excessive physical symptoms of anxiety/panic that come often and sometimes out of the blue. This is typically what people realize first — their heart racing, sweating, shaking, etc. — and people will contact their doctor or go to the ER in some cases because these symptoms feel so bad." So if your symptoms are so bad that you wind up in the hospital thinking you're having a heart attack, you could very likely be mistaking that for a panic attack.
Other symptoms can include digestive issues, headaches, exhaustion, and muscle tension, according to counselor Caraballo.
There's nothing quite like getting off work, hitting up happy hour, then coming home to binge on your favorite Netflix series. That falls into the realm of normal behavior on Friday night, for sure, and there's nothing wrong with escaping into video games and a beer once in a while, either.
There's only an issue if you're doing this constantly, relying on booze or distractions to get your mind off everything you're worried about to the point of escapism. Annie Wright, a licensed psychotherapist, told me, "If you find yourself needing extensive zone-out time after work and on the weekends, turning towards your coping mechanisms more often than not — such as substances or behaviors like using alcohol, weed, excessive gaming, constant Netflix, etc. — all in an effort to escape your life, this could speak to an underlying anxiety disorder."
Before you go down the rabbit hole binging all of Jessica Jones in one night and bringing a bottle of wine with you, make sure you're dealing with your stressors and issues accordingly.
You worry excessively
When you have an anxiety disorder, you're very likely worried about something all the time. Bruce W. Cameron, M.S., a licensed professional counselor, told me, "Anxiety is not like a phobia that has a specific target. It's worse. You feel that sense of doom is going to come out of nowhere. This anticipation feeds itself like a loop, and you can't seem to get out of the cycle." So you'll worry about something until it's resolved, then you'll fixate on a new problem. I do this all the time.
Counselor Caraballo told me that it's a good indicator that you're doing this if someone tells you that you worry too much. He said, "In my experience, people with very high or severe anxiety are unable to control their worry or constant analysis of almost every decision in their lives. What is sometimes difficult to notice in ourselves is much more visible to others. If the people closest to you have said these words, it might be worth speaking to a doctor or therapist about anxiety." And even if no one has said anything, you can ask friends or family if they have observed this in you. That's a good way to gauge your level of stress.
But be careful not to rely on other people's observations for constant reassurance as that could also be anxiety manifesting. Counselor Derichs says this is possible if "you need constant reassurance about how you look, or the choices you have to make, or upcoming decisions."
You can't focus
Do you find yourself unable to finish tasks or pay attention to your normal activities? Are you distracted by racing thoughts that kill your productivity? Anxiety could be the culprit, disrupting the flow of your daily life. Counselor Caraballo told me, "It's very common for those living with anxiety to experience disruption in their productivity at work or school." And this can have some very real world consequences. Caraballo continued, "For some, this disruption can lead to negative performance reviews, failing grades, or even termination or failing out. For others, they may be able to recover but still find themselves easily distracted or frustrated when trying to accomplish tasks. If you experience any of these, its possible that anxiety may be playing a role in your difficulty focusing."
So in order to make sure you remain employed or enrolled, make sure to talk to someone about your productivity issues and why you're having them. Chances are you need a little bit of help to stay on track, so consult with a mental health professional or your primary care doctor for a referral.
You're afraid of large, public spaces
On good days, I don't mind going out to the store and enjoy the act of getting out and about. But on bad days, the idea of heading into a big box store is my idea of hell. This is not uncommon for people who struggle with social anxiety disorders. Kim Shashoua, LMSW, elaborated. She told me, "Do large spaces, like malls or cavernous stores (such as Bed Bath & Beyond) make you uncomfortable? If your nervous system is on the lookout for threats, you could notice a reaction to those spaces." So why are these spaces such a trigger for some people? Why are we on edge? Shashoua said it's because "large spaces are harder to control and scan for threats, so they can seem much scarier than small spaces."
If you find yourself avoiding these places all together, that could be an indicator that you're wrestling with social anxiety — especially if you find yourself not wanting to leave your home at all.
You can't experience joy
Along with the debilitating symptoms, racing thoughts, and constant worry, one of the cruelest things about having an anxiety disorder is the way it can rob you of joy. Psychotherapist Wright told me, "With an anxiety disorder, the things that used to bring you pleasure — whether this is a cherished yoga class or a monthly ritual of getting together with your girlfriends — these same things don't bring you joy anymore. They may feel like burdens or events you want to avoid because it feels like more of an effort than a support."
So if you are constantly on edge and unable to have fun hanging out with your cats or going for a swim, consider why that might be. If it's because you're always somewhere else thinking about everything that could go wrong (I get it), stop, breathe, and if need be, check in with a mental health counselor. The right balance of therapy and, if needed, medication can help you restore your sense of zen.
You second guess yourself
Anxiety has a way of eroding our trust in ourselves. After a while, you might not even listen to yourself, or discern between what the anxiety is telling you and what your gut is telling you. Peg O'Connor, Ph.D., an expert author for Pro Talk on Rehabs.com, told me, "Second guessing yourself is, at rock bottom, not trusting yourself. You might be afraid to make any decisions because you don't trust your decision-making ability."
And even if you can make a decision, noted O'Connor, you're still going to be in knots over it. She continued, "If you do reach a decision, you may feel as if it will be the wrong one because you are the one who made it. This may prompt you to disregard the knowledge or insight you possess or to go against your intuition or gut instinct." So you basically sabotage yourself by discrediting your own knowledge and instincts.
And that can really erode your confidence. According to O'Connor, "Lacking trust in yourself leads to a kind of confirmation bias: everything that doesn't go well or turns out badly will count as proof that your decision-making ability is flawed." So you're basically stuck in a loop, an anxiety-induced inception.
While it's natural for all of us to doubt ourselves here and there, this sort of crippling lack of self-trust is likely the result of anxiety.
Your energy is low
Some days are just a slog when you're anxious all the time. Psychotherapist Wright told me, "If it feels like getting through each day is like walking up a mountain with a backpack of rocks, if you feel like you barely have the mental, emotional, and physical energy to handle your life anymore, if your overall energy levels are greatly diminished, this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder."
And it's not surprising, given that your body is so often in a state of fight or flight. Or if your sleep is interrupted, then clearly you're not getting enough rest. Couple that with extensive and obsessive worry, and you have a recipe for utter exhaustion. I can't even have a cup of coffee for a pick-me-up because it makes me too anxious — and that's cruel.
But there are ways you can fight it. Talk to our doctor about both anxiety and sleep medication, as they can really help conquer your symptoms. And I always do better when I get an hour of cardio, which calms my mind and helps me focus. Your mileage may vary.
How to reduce anxiety
Asta Klimaite, M.A., a licensed clinical professional counselor, shared some anxiety fighting tips with me that might help. She said:
• Identify your anxiety triggers and try to minimize them. For example, if you are stressed out and anxious in the morning about being late to work/school, set your alarm five minutes earlier.
• I ask my clients to take a jog or do yoga in the morning to help them calm down.
• Set yourself up for success in terms of your anxiety — plan ahead to minimize it. For example, if you get stressed at work, talk to your boss about having an appropriate work load (I know it's easier said than done!). You have to teach others how to treat you. You also have to teach yourself how to treat you.
• I ask my clients to fill out a gratitude journal at night to help them refocus on the positives.
• I also ask my clients to write down their anxious thoughts in the morning and work on changing them to more positive ones. I ask clients to practice re-framing those thoughts every day
As always, talk to your doctor about what's best for you in your fight against anxiety.
What are the 3 main symptoms of anxiety? ›
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Common symptoms are: Panic, fear, and uneasiness. Feelings of panic, doom, or danger.
- Keep physically active. ...
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
- Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
- Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
- Make sleep a priority. ...
- Eat healthy foods. ...
- Learn about your disorder.
Intensity: Nervousness doesn't prevent you from doing the things that make you nervous. Anxiety, on the other hand, can prevent you from doing something you enjoy and make it difficult to focus and go about your day. Focus: Nervousness is a response to something specific, while anxiety is often more general.What it feels like to have anxiety? ›
feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax. having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst. feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down. feeling like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you.What triggers anxiety? ›
Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like: physical or emotional abuse.Is anxiety a mental health? ›
Anxiety disorders are a type of mental health condition. Anxiety makes it difficult to get through your day. Symptoms include feelings of nervousness, panic and fear as well as sweating and a rapid heartbeat. Treatments include medications and cognitive behavioral therapy.What remains a constant anxiety? ›
Hawking's health remains a constant anxiety and concern.How does the brain react to anxiety? ›
The amygdala is responsible for the expression of fear and aggression as well as species-specific defensive behavior, and it plays a role in the formation and retrieval of emotional and fear-related memories.Does anxiety make u tired? ›
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms associated with anxiety, panic disorder, chronic stress, depression and other mental health disorders. Chronic anxiety leaves the body and mind in a constant state of tension and high alertness.How Do I Stop overthinking anxiety? ›
- Distract yourself. ...
- Plan to take action. ...
- Take action. ...
- Question your thoughts. ...
- Readjust your life's goals. ...
- Work on enhancing your self-esteem. ...
- Try meditation. ...
- Understand your triggers.
What does low level anxiety feel like? ›
Normal levels of anxiety lie on one end of a spectrum and may present as low levels of fear or apprehension, mild sensations of muscle tightness and sweating, or doubts about your ability to complete a task.What is an overthinking disorder? ›
Overthinking is commonly associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), says Duke. GAD is characterized by the tendency to worry excessively about several things. “Someone can develop GAD due to their genes. Or it could be personality factors like the inability to tolerate uncertainty in life.What does anxiety feel like in your head? ›
Anxiety causes a heavy head feeling because of tension headaches common in people living with the disorder. Most people describe these headaches as feeling like a tight band wrapped around their heads. A tightening of the scalp and neck muscles also causes an anxiety headache.What anxiety does to a person? ›
People with these disorders have feelings of fear and uncertainty that interfere with everyday activities and last for 6 months or more. Anxiety disorders can also raise your risk for other medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression.What do anxiety attacks look like? ›
A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety. Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness. The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous, but can be very frightening.What are the anxiety attacks? ›
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. They usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there's an obvious trigger—getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give—but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.Why does water help with anxiety? ›
Water has been shown to have natural calming properties, likely as a result of addressing dehydration's effects on the body and brain. Drinking enough water is an important step in managing your anxiety. Even if you're not experiencing anxiety, drinking sufficient water can create feelings of relaxation.Can anxiety be cured? ›
Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Most patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.Is anxiety a disability? ›
Is Anxiety Considered a Disability? Anxiety disorders, such as OCD, panic disorders, phobias or PTSD are considered a disability and can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Those with anxiety can qualify for disability if they are able to prove their anxiety makes it impossible to work.What happens if anxiety is left untreated? ›
For the majority of people with undiagnosed or untreated anxiety disorder, there are many negative consequences, for both the individual and society. These include disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of suicide.
Does anxiety worsen with age? ›
Does anxiety get worse with age? Anxiety disorders don't necessarily get worse with age, but the number of people suffering from anxiety changes across the lifespan. Anxiety becomes more common with older age and is most common among middle-aged adults.How long do anxiety attacks last? ›
Anxiety attacks typically last no more than 30 minutes, with the symptoms reaching their most intense at about halfway through the attack. Anxiety can build up for hours or even days before the actual attack so it is important to take note of factors that contribute to anxiety to effectively prevent or treat them.Can a brain scan show anxiety? ›
Brain imaging can reveal unsuspected causes of your anxiety. Anxiety can be caused by many things, such as neurohormonal imbalances, post-traumatic stress syndrome, or head injuries. Brain scans can offer clues to potential root causes of your anxiety, which can help find the most effective treatment plan.What happens in your body when you have anxiety? ›
The hormone adrenaline floods into your bloodstream, putting your body on high alert. Your heartbeat quickens, which sends more blood to your muscles. Your breathing becomes fast and shallow, so you can take in more oxygen. Your blood sugar spikes.What is the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder? ›
Anxiety is a problem when it becomes overwhelming or unmanageable and it comes up unexpectedly. Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that have a big impact your life. People may avoid going about their daily lives in order to avoid anxiety.Does anxiety make you cry? ›
If you have anxiety, you might cry often or uncontrollably. Other signs of anxiety include: racing thoughts. excess fear and worry.Why does anxiety make you dizzy? ›
Your breathing changes – when you feel anxious, you typically start to take in quick, deep breaths. This reduces the levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which can cause dizziness as well as light-headedness, nausea and tingling in your hands and/or feet.What are 5 emotional signs of stress? ›
- Being more emotional than usual.
- Feeling overwhelmed or on edge.
- Trouble keeping track of things or remembering.
- Trouble making decisions, solving problems, concentrating, getting your work done.
- Using alcohol or drugs to relieve your emotional stress.
Benzodiazepines (also known as tranquilizers) are the most widely prescribed type of medication for anxiety. Drugs such as Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam) work quickly, typically bringing relief within 30 minutes to an hour.Will my anxiety ever go away? ›
Most people with anxiety disorders never fully eliminate their anxiety. However, they can learn how to control their feelings and greatly reduce the severity of their anxiety through therapy (and medication if needed).
What is considered severe anxiety? ›
Symptoms of severe anxiety are frequent and persistent and may include increased heart rate, feelings of panic and social withdrawal. These symptoms can result in loss of work and increased health care costs.What does anxiety feel like in your head? ›
Anxiety causes a heavy head feeling because of tension headaches common in people living with the disorder. Most people describe these headaches as feeling like a tight band wrapped around their heads. A tightening of the scalp and neck muscles also causes an anxiety headache.Is anxiety a disability? ›
Is Anxiety Considered a Disability? Anxiety disorders, such as OCD, panic disorders, phobias or PTSD are considered a disability and can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Those with anxiety can qualify for disability if they are able to prove their anxiety makes it impossible to work.Why do I have anxiety for no reason? ›
Anxiety can be caused by a variety of things: stress, genetics, brain chemistry, traumatic events, or environmental factors. Symptoms can be reduced with anti-anxiety medication. But even with medication, people may still experience some anxiety or even panic attacks.Can you have anxiety all day? ›
If you're feeling anxious all the time, or it's affecting your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.Is it normal to have anxiety everyday? ›
It's okay to feel anxious, but not all of the time. If you feel that you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms in your daily life or to an intense degree, you may have an anxiety disorder. It's important to reach out to a mental health care provider to help confirm a diagnosis.When do you need to go to the hospital for anxiety? ›
An anxiety emergency or extreme panic attack may require an ER visit if the sufferer is unable to get it under control. Extreme cases of hyperventilation can lead to tachycardia, an occurrence where the heart is beating so fast that it is unable to properly pump blood throughout the body.What is the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder? ›
Anxiety is a problem when it becomes overwhelming or unmanageable and it comes up unexpectedly. Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that have a big impact your life. People may avoid going about their daily lives in order to avoid anxiety.What problems can anxiety cause? ›
- Muscle aches.
- Upset stomach.
- Heart palpitations.
- Breathing problems.
- Increased blood pressure.
Or maybe you find yourself restless, tense, and unable to relax more often than not. This “subconscious” anxiety, or anxiety you aren't fully aware of, can still take a toll on mental and physical well-being.
Is anxiety genetic? ›
Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family.Can anxiety be cured? ›
Anxiety disorders are very treatable. Most patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.Can I claim benefits for anxiety? ›
If your mental health means you find it hard to work or do daily tasks, you could claim benefits. These will depend on the criteria, but can include depression or anxiety. The benefit process can be stressful.How does anxiety develop? ›
Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like: physical or emotional abuse.What are the anxiety attacks? ›
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of intense panic or fear. They usually occur suddenly and without warning. Sometimes there's an obvious trigger—getting stuck in an elevator, for example, or thinking about the big speech you have to give—but in other cases, the attacks come out of the blue.How do you calm anxiety quickly? ›
- Breathe. One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. ...
- Name what you're feeling. ...
- Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. ...
- Try the “File It” mind exercise. ...
- Run. ...
- Think about something funny. ...
- Distract yourself. ...
- Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)