Most people experience anxiety or nervousness from time to time. Financial struggles, the pressure at work, or relationship problems can produce varying levels of stress for everyone. When the anxiety becomes so frequent or strong that it negatively impacts your quality of life, then it’s time to evaluate and make some changes.
Anxiety can manifest in many ways and recognizing that what you’re feeling isn’t “normal” requires paying attention to the accumulation of all the symptoms you are experiencing. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the broadest type of diagnosis for this condition and can be caused by recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations, sudden trauma, or be passed on through genetics. It includes consistent and persistent anxious thoughts for a period of six months or more and can be accompanied by a variety of physical, mental, or emotional symptoms.
1. Trouble Sleeping – Physical and psychological problems can start with trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and lead to a wide range of more serious health conditions. Tossing and turning the night before a job interview is normal, but if you find yourself lying awake several nights in a row your body will begin to show signs of stress. You may find it difficult to concentrate during the day or become agitated by the smallest issue and unable to calm yourself down. Half of all people with GAD experience sleep problems, so if a warm cup of milk or a hot bath at night doesn’t do the trick, consider talking to a professional therapist or your doctor.
2. Irrational fears – Sometimes anxiety can be attached to a specific situation or thing, like being in a large crowd, or fear of flying. If the fear becomes out of proportion to the actual risk involved it is overwhelming, disruptive, or even become a phobia. Some phobias are not obvious and can lay hidden until you meet a specific situation and discover you can’t overcome your fear. Many people are not comfortable around snakes, but it usually doesn’t prevent them from enjoying a day at the zoo with their family or avoid a camping trip. If your feelings of fear suddenly prevent you from living a normal life, reach out for assistance and don’t wait for it to push you into behaving irrationally.
3. Muscle tension – Anxiety disorders are often accompanied by continual muscle tension. Some examples are clenching your jaw, flexing and unflexing different muscles in the body, or balling your fists. If regular exercise doesn’t help keep it under control, it can push you to a point of extreme restlessness and irritability. It can also show up in the gut as bloating, gas, cramping or constipation. Muscle tension and stomach problems alone probably don’t indicate an anxiety disorder, but when they are combined with other issues it can all add up to be unbearable. It is important to listen to your body for clues about what is going on in your mind.
4. Panic Attacks – When you are in a perpetual state of apprehension it can lead to a full-on panic attack. A gripping feeling of fear and helplessness combined with physical symptoms like shortness of breath, a pounding heart, sweating, dizziness, or chest pain are all characteristics of a panic attack. Being constantly afraid of having one of these attacks can leave you stuck, afraid to go anywhere or do anything. If you have panic attacks in combination with other symptoms on a regular basis then it is time to take steps to identify what is going on and look for some solutions.
5. Perfectionism – Having a mindset that is finicky and obsessive is very common in anxiety disorders. In the extreme it turns into OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and in lesser degrees it can still be very debilitating. When you are constantly anticipating that you will make a mistake or fail it can feel like your emotions are out of control. This trait can also be very harmful to those close to you, so it is important to identify the signs and get help from a professional.
What Can You Do About Anxiety?
These are just 5 signs of anxiety that can be seen in many people in varying degrees. Identifying whether they add up to an anxiety disorder can be tricky, especially because there are many ways the disorder can affect your life. The good news is there are many different methods for reducing anxiety that have proven to be highly successful. Medication and therapy are common treatments, but there are some things you can try first. Start small by eating healthy, exercising, and cutting back on caffeine. Beyond that you can try a variety of different stress management techniques like targeted breathing, meditation, and yoga.
The way you choose to deal with anxiety is a personal choice, but not one that you must make alone. Find a professional or someone you trust and let them know what you are experiencing. Most likely you will discover that you are not the only one and leaning what worked for others can help you find what works for you.