If the latest data tells us anything, it’s that anxiety is on the rise and especially so among younger generations. Every year close to 20 percent of American adults experience anxiety. Rates are generally higher among women, and over 50 percent of adults experience what they would consider moderate to severe impairment.
But what is anxiety? Up until the last decade or so, nobody really talked about the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders. In years past, general anxiety was often written off as normal stress. Social anxiety was explained away by introversion. Today, we have a much better understanding of all things related to the mental health issue – and are much better prepared to discuss it.
There is often confusion between the signs of stress and the signs of anxiety. How can you tell if your daily worries have progressed into fully-fledged and diagnosable anxiety? Ask yourself, how long have you experienced these symptoms, and how much do they impact your everyday life? Go through the following list, how many do you check off?
10 Signs You Have Anxiety
1. Spiraling Thought Patterns
Do you find yourself lying awake at night, thinking about the worst case scenario? If you have anxiety, your brain will often spiral from one thought to another, and almost always downwards. You may innocently begin considering a future rent payment, but quickly find yourself worrying about missing it, getting an eviction notice, and spiraling into homelessness. Maybe a comment in a recent conversation continues to circulate through your head, and eventually, you assume the worst about that friend. The spirals often don’t make rational sense.
2. Difficulty Falling Asleep or Staying Asleep
Anxiety often comes hand-in-hand with insomnia. If you have trouble sleeping, your body is constantly fatigued. It can turn into a bit of a vicious cycle; constant anxiety makes it hard to sleep, and lack of sleep aggravates your feelings of anxiety.
3.Irritable and Agitated
Think over your reactions and general mood these last few weeks, would you describe it as irritable or overly agitated? One of the most commonly overlooked signs of anxiety is irritability. Picture the successful and always grumpy business executive; this is the perfect example of someone who may be under a lot of stress and tipping into the anxious territory. Anxiety places additional pressure on our ability to manage mood, meaning it’s harder to keep a smile on our face and a pep in our step.
4. Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are a visible sign that your stress levels have reached a breaking point. A panic attack is when your mind and body enter into a fight or flight mode but have nowhere to go. The signs of panic vary from person to person, but often include hyperventilation, elevated heart rate, shaking or trembling, trouble breathing, tight chest, and crying. They are usually short-lived (under 10 minutes) but can feel terrifyingly-long during the thick of it. Panic attacks may happen for logical reasons (witnessing an accident, or getting chased by a dog), they might occur for non-logical reasons as well (dropping a plate of food or a loud party). Frequent panic attacks are a sure sign your body is operating under elevated stress levels.
5. Irrational Thoughts and Fears
The exact definition of anxiety is “Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).” Almost always this “excessive worry” is about a situation which wouldn’t normally warrant much concern. A perfect example of excessive fears, as it relates to anxiety disorders, is social anxiety. People who experience social anxiety are extremely anxious about what others expect of them and think about them. The concern about what others think is so severe, it makes it hard to go to parties, events, or make casual conversation.
6. Feeling Overwhelmed at Work
Everyone has bad days at work, but if there are more bad days than good – this may be a sign of work-related anxiety. The most common triggers at work are office politics, deadlines, and issues of staff management. Feeling under constant pressure, and facing a never-ending to-do list may lead to an anxiety disorder.
7. Changes in Appetite
The same biological system which regulates stress and mood also regulates appetite. This system, called the endocannabinoid system, can become discombobulated when under stress. You may find yourself not eating for entire days, only to demolish a bag of chips late at night. You might also find yourself constantly eating, without ever feeling full. If you notice appetite changes in conjunction with other signs on this list, this is a tell-tale sign you are under significant stress.
8. Constantly Sick
Anxiety can make itself known by physical symptoms as well. If you have been run ragged by worry, your immune system can take a hit. Often, stress leads to sickness. You may find you catch every single cold going around the office, or can’t shake the flu your kids brought home. Lingering illness might not necessarily indicate anxiety, but taken together with other signs – it’s worth noting.
9. Lashing Out at Friends and Family
Do you find that just about anything sets you off on an angry rant these days? Do you have less and less patience for friends and family? This might be a sure sign you are operating under a lot of stress, and it’s having an impact on your fuse. If you have less patience for others, it might be because you are already working under challenging emotional turmoil.
10. A Feeling that You Need to Escape
Our fight and flight response, as stated, is related to anxiety. When in peak stress, you may notice you feel the need to escape the situation. Right before a panic attack, people often report the urge to hide or run away. You might feel a milder urgency as well. But whatever the case, the urge to disappear, escape, or run away from an otherwise mundane environment is a sign of anxiety.
5 Ways to Reduce the Symptoms
If these common signs and symptoms are ringing true for you, what do you do next? If you have anxiety, how do you conquer it? There is no miracle solution, no single pill which will cure your stress – but today experts have a much better understanding on how to approach a long-lasting healing process.
Adopting a holistic approach to anxiety treatment including therapy, lifestyle adjustments, and for some – medication – tend to work over a single method. Here are a few real examples of how to manage the symptoms of anxiety:
1. Speak with a professional
Not enough can be said about working with a counselor to understand and work through mental health issues. Not only do therapists offer a safe space, but they care about your experience. They are well versed in anxiety, as one of the most common disorders and have tools to help you manage the symptoms.
2. Seek Quiet and Calm
Anxiety often comes in times of chaos and upheaval. There is a reason why meditation is such a powerful tool for stress – it’s the quiet and calm in a hurricane. If you feel overwhelmed with worry and near panic, practice breathing techniques to slow down your whirlwind of stress. Take up meditation, put on sound-canceling headphones, or take a moment out of a crazy situation to still the mind. A little quiet can do the mind a whole lot of good.
3. Treat Yourself
We don’t mean buying expensive things or eating a plate full of desserts. Treat yourself in a way that supports mental health. Recognize the activities which nourish you. Does this mean going for a mountain bike ride or taking an hour-long bath? Schedule one night a week for you. Turn off social media, tell your friends you are busy – and do what makes you feel calm.
4. Physical Activity (Preferably Outside):
One of the easiest ways to boost serotonin is through physical activity. The consistent activity works wonders on many mental health issues, from anxiety to depression. Depending on how severe your anxiety is, this might feel very challenging. Start with a small walk, and work your way up to hikes, bike rides, and yoga sessions.
Learning to recognize the waves of anxiety as they appear is the first step to learning to overcome them. It’s one of the pillars of emotional intelligence, staying present with your emotions. Once you learn to recognize the anxiety as it occurs, it’s easier to work through them and manage them.
Nobody said beating anxiety was easy, but with a bit of work, anyone can do it. Learn to recognize the common signs, so you can see stress well before it turns into a chronic period of anxiety.
As you gain experience with the signs and symptoms, you might find you can turn the ship around before it hits the looming storm. In the meantime, start implementing a few of the above suggestions to reduce the severity. Take time out from stressful environments, breathe deeply, and know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.