Everyone experiences anxiety. It is a normal part of life. Healthy levels of adrenaline and stress hormones released into your bloodstreams can motivate you to get out of bed, get dressed, and add value to this world. It keeps you alert to threats and reminds you to plan ahead to avoid life’s potential pitfalls and possible dangers.
But what if your anxiety reaches a high enough level that your body cannot effectively function? What if your anxiety keeps you in a constant state of hypervigilance? What happens when you have trouble calming your anxiety? Perhaps you lie awake at night anticipating every possible negative outcome about your health, your finances, your work status or your relationships. You might avoid people, places, activities or opportunities because of your constant struggle with fear and worry. Once your anxiety interferes with your daily functioning, it is likely you have an anxiety disorder.
How do you know when it is time to seek professional help? Check out the 7 signs of anxiety below. If they sound all too familiar, and you find it difficult to manage these symptoms on your own, it is likely time to seek out the guidance of a mental health professional.
1. Gastrointestinal Difficulties
Anxiety often manifests itself as physical aches and pains. The digestive tract is particularly vulnerable in its stress response.
Below are common gastrointestinal symptoms triggered by stress and anxiety:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
Modifying your diet and limiting caffeine intake can be helpful in managing these symptoms.
2. Other Physical Changes
Unfortunately, anxiety can wreak havoc on various other bodily organs. Additional physical symptoms may include:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Chest pain
- Muscle aches or tension
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Racing heartbeat
These physical symptoms are a result of a biological phenomenon called the fight-or-flight response. Your body is responding to perceived danger and preparing to protect itself by going into survival mode. However, when your body goes into recurrent false alarm mode, it can trigger heightened health concerns. This, in turn, can further perpetuate the negative loop of stress and worry.
3. Difficulty Sleeping
Anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Nightly rumination accompanied by the worry about how anxiety will impact the length and quality of your sleep can create a vicious cycle of insomnia and worry. Restless nights lead to daily fatigue, and daily fatigue leads to further stress about your ability to function, which in turn gives way to more sleep difficulties. Sleep anxiety reinforces a sense of dread prior to bedtime. Over time, anxiety disorders can disrupt REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the phase of sleep during which people have their most vivid dreams. Disturbed sleep cycles can trigger nightmares which further reinforce negative feelings about going to sleep.
4. Mood Changes
Those coping with anxiety may experience significant mood disturbance. Fear, stress, sleep disturbance and fatigue can all cause intense and sudden fluctuations of mood, presenting as any one of the following:
- Feelings of tension or nervousness
Mood changes and mood swings may be related to an anxiety disorder. They may also be a sign of another issue, such as bipolar disorder. Either way, a professional diagnosis can help.
5. Negative Thinking
Do you have an overall pessimistic view of the world? Does your thinking tend to be irrational? Are you highly self-critical if you do not live up to unrealistic standards? Perfectionism is often at the root of your self-deprecating attitude. You may tend toward a fixed mindset in which you doubt your ability to improve over time. In contrast, someone with a growth mindset believes that talents and abilities are learnable and can be improved. A growth mindset fosters resilience and can encourage you to take on new challenges in important areas of your life, such as your academics or your career. If you’re stuck in a pattern of negative thinking, it may be caused by anxiety. Getting treatment for your anxiety can help you identify and reframe negative thought patterns which will ultimately help improve your mood.
6. Cognitive Impairment
Anxiety can affect your cognition, which involves your memory, reasoning, thinking and decision making. If you have anxiety, you may find yourself struggling to concentrate on important tasks. Perhaps you get easily distracted. You are forgetful. You struggle with brain fog, and have difficulty accessing words. Your attention becomes so restricted that you can only focus on how anxious you feel.
If you suffer from cognitive symptoms of anxiety, you can benefit from seeking therapy. You can learn how to calm your nervous system and eliminate much of the brain fog that anxiety causes.
7. Excessive Worrying
Worrying is a key indicator of anxiety, so it’s no surprise that when most people think of anxiety, they think of worrying. Of course a certain amount of worrying is normal. Most people have some level of worry about a major event like a wedding, job review, or preparing for childbirth.
But excessive worrying can be an indicator of a growing problem with anxiety.
So how do you know if you’re worrying is excessive and possibly an indicator of an anxiety disorder? If your worrying is:
- Disproportionate to the situation
- Nonstop and difficult to control
- Interfering with your quality of life
- Making daily functioning difficult
- Consuming a significant amount of time in your day
- Repetitive or easily triggered
Seeking treatment for anxiety from an experienced psychologist can help you gain perspective on your anxiety and develop strategies to better cope when your worrying interferes with your daily life.
Get Help for Your Anxiety
Anxiety does not have to be the boss of you. It is treatable. Positive change is possible.
Since 1995, Dr. Feinstein has been treating clients who suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, and other conditions. She specializes in CBT, DBT, ACT, and mindfulness-based therapy to help people struggling to manage anxiety.
Ready to begin conquering your anxiety? Make an appointment with Dr. Feinstein today.