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Feeling anxious is never fun. For me, it feels like a swooping, sinking sensation in my stomach that accompanies anxious thoughts with a sharp sting. I talked more about how I figured out that I have anxiety in this post. For now, I want to help you identify if you’re showing any of these common signs of anxiety.
What Is Anxiety
But first… What is anxiety?
Anxiety is actually a normal, healthy emotion. It becomes a problem when it causes constant distress. Anxiety is what warns us when life-threatening danger lurks nearby. It’s the feeling that tells us there’s something wrong with this situation and we need to get out—fast. It’s fight-or-flight.
Nowadays, we feel anxious about things that are not life-threatening, and that’s where it becomes a problem. Anxiety wants us to think that stressful conversation at work might kill us.
The DSM-V actually categorizes several types of anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Selective Mutism
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
- Specific Phobia
Each type has its own unique symptoms in addition to the common signs of anxiety that make up the rest of this post.
Elevated Heart Rate
Resting heart rate tells a lot about overall health. A higher heart rate means that the cardiovascular system is primed for movement, since fight-or-flight takes a lot of energy. Adrenaline elevates the heart rate in preparation for fight-or-flight. When you’re experiencing this symptom, especially at rest, it’s evidence of anxiety.
Worrying Too Much
Excessive worrying is an extremely common sign of anxiety. I felt like I was worried about everything, all the time, before I went to a therapist. Worry does nothing to serve us; it pretends it’s necessary. Constant worry can intrude on your day-to-day life. If it happens on most days for at least six months, and is difficult to control, you might have generalized anxiety disorder.
This one pairs with excessive worrying. Depending on the object of fear, it could be a phobia, which is defined as “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.” I totally understand fear of spiders and snakes, but irrational fear moves us to avoid things to the extreme. I’ll still kill a spider if I have to.
Anxiety disrupts working memory, and thus makes it difficult to concentrate. This is common in both children and adults, but adults have it worse. Additionally, the worse the anxiety, the harder it is to concentrate.
Tense All the Time
Tense muscles cause all sorts of problems—just ask any chiropractor! They can pull ribs out of place, contribute to headaches and other bodily pain. The link to anxiety isn’t fully understood, but treating tense muscles (particularly with muscle relaxation therapy) reduces other symptoms of anxiety, such as worry.
Are you easily agitated? Does someone clicking a pen or tapping their foot or chewing gum make you want to punch them in the face? Agitation increases the heart rate, makes us feel sweaty and shaky, and if you have anxiety it can take a while for those feelings to subside. Agitation makes it easier for us to lash out at the things that present a danger to us.
Irritation and agitation are different. Agitation is a more aroused state of irritation that might prompt someone to call HR. Irritation is defined as “the state of feeling annoyed, impatient, or slightly angry.” A drip-drip-drip of water after rain can be irritating, but not necessarily prompt agitation.
The feeling that you need to move around, that you need to do something, or that you’re “on edge” is restlessness. By itself, it doesn’t straight-up mean you’ve got anxiety. It’s a red flag for doctors to watch. Restlessness as a symptom of anxiety commonly occurs in children (1).
Despite the usual “hyperactivity” associated with anxiety, fatigue is also a symptom. It can come after an anxiety attack, or be a persistent symptom in itself. Fatigue is a symptom of many other diagnoses, like depression or even mononucleosis (believe it or not), so by itself fatigue is not enough to diagnose anxiety.
Difficulty Falling or Staying Asleep
It’s hard to sleep when your mind won’t shut up. Excessive worrying, restlessness, irrational fears, and elevated heart rate all contribute to anxiety-related insomnia or sleep disruption. This sleep interruption feeds into fatigue. If you had insomnia as a child, you’re 60% more likely to have anxiety by age 26 (2).
Michael Hyatt describes feeling symptoms of a heart attack, multiple times, only to find out from the doctor that they were really panic attacks caused by the stress of his job. Panic attacks are marked by overwhelming fear, shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, nausea, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Panic Disorder is defined as recurring panic attacks.
This one is most associated with social anxiety disorder, but it’s a common symptom of anxiety in general. When you’re anxious, you don’t want to interact with anyone. I certainly didn’t want to be around other people when I was in the midst of strong feelings of anxiety. I didn’t experience this one all the time, but for some people with anxiety this is a strong marker that drives a lot of their behaviors. Extreme shyness, worry about what others will think of you, fear of embarrassment or humiliation, and avoiding situations where these things might occur all indicate social avoidance.
You’re Not Alone
No matter what common signs of anxiety you’re displaying, know that you are not alone. Anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of the adult population in the United States (3). That’s 40 million people. Other people know the kind of struggle you face, and stand in solidarity with you.
Additionally, there are so many ways to treat the different types of anxiety. My top recommendations include finding a therapist, talking about your anxiety, and meditative breathing. For some people, medication is the answer.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to anxiety.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek help.