Everyone gets anxious, but occasionally feeling nervous or apprehensive is very different than suffering from anxiety. To suffer from anxiety the anxious feelings or thoughts must intrude on your life on a consistent basis and have a negative impact on your overall quality of life. Suffering from an anxiety disorder is a difficult thing to cope with, but the first step is being able to effectively identify the symptoms of anxiety and understand how it affects your day to day life.
There are several ways to determine if you suffer from anxiety. The first thing to do is identify the severity of which it affects your life. Everyone feels anxious at some points in their lives, but to suffer from an anxiety disorder you need to have a constant or frequently recurring feeling of anxiety. This feeling can either be situational or chronic, meaning it is triggered by certain circumstances or a consistent feeling of anxiety. For some it is even a combination of both. This article will help you identify whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder. To determine the severity of your anxiety, ask yourself these questions:
What does your body feel when you are anxious?
People who suffer from anxiety will feel bodily sensations in reaction to their nervous symptoms. Note that everyone gets nervous and may have these nervous reactions, but if you suffer from anxiety you will experience these symptoms often, in cases where most people would not feel this way. They will also last longer than for a person who does not suffer from anxiety. A person with anxiety would experience the following symptoms on a consistent basis (At least once a month, especially when exposed to a trigger):
- Stomachache or indigestion
- Tremors or shaking
- Butterflies in your stomach
- A rush of adrenaline in your chest
- Flushed cheeks and face
- A weighted feeling in your chest
- Racing heartbeat
- Rapid or darting eye movement
- Nervous tics like foot tapping, hand wringing, etc.
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Muscle tension
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Hot flashes
How do you behave when you are anxious?
People who suffer from anxiety will react differently under stress than those who do not. A person who has anxiety will experience several behavioral symptoms as a reaction to stress. He or she will also approach different situations differently from a person who does not have anxiety.
Do you have any of the following behaviors that indicate anxiety?
- Being irritable when under pressure or stress
- Lashing out at others when anxious or uncomfortable
- Avoiding situations that make you uncomfortable (crowds, small spaces, confrontation, work, family, relationships, etc.)
- Crying spells
- Preoccupation for things to be perfect, in line, or ‘just so’
- Restlessness or fidgeting
- Blaming others or situations for your upset feelings
- Panicking when feeling uncomfortable or feeling trapped
- Discomfort with feeling out of control of your surroundings
- Fighting to maintain control over situations and people
- Compulsive compensatory behavior (Ex: performing behavioral or mental rituals, compulsively cleaning, or checking things to relieve anxiety)
- Extreme avoidance and discomfort when leaving comfort zone
- Picking at skin, hair, or belongings
How are your emotions and thoughts affected by stress?
People who suffer from anxiety tend to be more emotionally reactive to certain situations than those who are not. Keep in mind that an emotional reaction can manifest in different ways, and does not necessarily mean that you need to experience extreme emotions to be considered emotionally reactive.
Anxiety can be fueled by other emotions. This means that it will interact with your other emotions, which will increase the intensity of the anxious symptoms. There are common feelings and thought processes associated with anxiety, including:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, your world, or your future
- Excessive and irrational fear or worry
- Feeling self-conscience
- Experiencing depression and anger
- Having low self-esteem or a lack of confidence
- Fixating on negative or uncomfortable thoughts or memories
- Overanalyzing words and actions of others
- Obsessive thoughts or worries
How much do you worry?
People with anxiety are chronic worriers. A major challenge that people with anxiety face is knowing when to try to control a situation and when to accept things as they are. People with anxiety feel the most comfortable when they are in control, so when they are exposed to a situation where they are not in control they will feel extremely uncomfortable. In such situations, it is not uncommon to feel:
A person who is feeling anxious as a reaction to his or her environment will either act out internally or externally. A person who is reacting internally will appear to shut down, and show body language that communicates “I am uncomfortable, do not approach me”. Those who internalize discomfort will keep their eyes down, avoid eye contact, keep arms crossed, and struggle to focus. They may also clutch their belongings close to them and begin to fidget. A person who reacts externally will appear confrontational or panicked, and will actively try to escape the situation or become defensive and confrontational.
People with anxiety also tend to fixate on things for longer than someone who does not have anxiety. They have difficulty letting things go. For example, they may hold a grudge against another person longer than someone without anxiety. They may also obsess over situations or issues that a person without anxiety is able to get over and move on from quickly.
Do you have control over your worries?
Sometimes it is difficult to think objectively about difficult situations, but for most people after the initial feelings of worry they are able to rationalize through their worries and cope with them. However, people with anxiety may not be able to easily let go of certain stressors. An anxious person will not be able to reason with his or her negative thoughts, and will let those negative thoughts control how he or she feels and reacts to things. This is not a healthy behavior for a person with anxiety because it prevents him or her from being able to be optimistic and understand his or her behavior in reaction to certain situations. A person with anxiety will not be able to move on from difficult or awkward moments, and will engage in compensatory behaviors to ease the anxiety. Such compensatory behaviors include:
- Over-explaining yourself in situations that others have moved on from
- Overthinking simple situations and interactions with others
- Believing you are awkward and make others feel awkward or uncomfortable
- Second guessing yourself and your ability to perform tasks
- Feeling self-conscious around others
- Comparing yourself to others
- Having your worries prevent you from concentrating or focusing on the present
- Letting your thoughts and insecurities prevent you from trying to achieve a goal
How is your sleep?
Anxiety has a strong negative impact on a person’s sleep patterns. Sleep is so important for managing anxiety because if you do not get enough sleep then you will likely experience increased anxiety along with heightened emotional reactivity. This is due to the fact that you are not able to allow your body to rest long enough to rejuvenate itself. This causes mental and physical exhaustion, which results in anxiety and emotional issues.
It is not uncommon for a person with anxiety to struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep. There could be several different reasons for this, including:
- Stressing about what needs to be done the following day or was not done earlier that day
- Having troubling thoughts that prevent you from being able to relax
- Recalling upsetting or embarrassing moments from the day or earlier on in life
- Being worried about whether you will be able to fall asleep early enough to get a good night’s sleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night and calculating how many more hours of sleep you can get before you need to be awake for the next day (which in itself will keep you up from worry)
Have you ever had a panic attack?
While having a panic attack is not necessary for identifying anxiety most people with anxiety will have a panic attack at least once in their lives. A panic attack can be quite scary, as it causes the person having the attack to think they are dying or having a medical emergency. A panic attack can be either triggered by a difficult situation or seem to come out of nowhere. The following are symptoms of a panic attack:
- Feeling like you are having a heart attack
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling like you are dying
- Chest pains
- Shaking or tremors
- Racing heartbeat
- Feeling the need to flee or escape your surroundings
Have you ever had to deal with a traumatic event?
Having witnessed or dealt with a traumatic event, or having a history of abuse will cause anxiety within a person. Trauma and abuse deeply affect the mental health of a person, so if you have been through any sort of physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse, whether it is prolonged or an isolated incident, and did not gain closure or learn how to cope with the stress, it is likely that you are suffering from anxiety. The feeling of helplessness in regard to the following traumatic situations can result in anxiety symptoms:
- Witnessing or dealing with a traumatic event (whether at home, at an accident site, in combat, or an injury)
- Sexual assault, molestation or abuse
- Being bullied or picked on by peers
- Being physically, mentally, or verbally abused by close family
- Growing up in a chaotic or unsafe environment.
- Dealing with unresolved grief
How well do you handle confrontation with others?
Many people with anxiety tend to have a hard time dealing with confrontation. In fact, most will do what they can to avoid needing to confront or disagree with someone. Confrontation of any kind causes people with anxiety to feel nervous and fearful. It can sometimes cause them to be submissive or over-accommodating to avoid conflict with others, even if it is at their detriment.
On the other hand, some with anxiety may struggle with angry or defensive behavior when confronted by others. These people often struggle with controlling their anger and have a low sense of self-esteem. They interpret criticism, comments or suggestion as a personal assault or threat, causing them to be reactive, which results in defensive behavior.
How do you see yourself as a person?
To conclude this article, let’s talk about you. How do you see yourself as a person? How would you rate your self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth? It is very important to feel valued, strong, able and content with who you are and where you are in your life. Your sense of self suffers when you do not feel happy with yourself, or you do not recognize yourself when you look in the mirror. People with anxiety tend to have low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth, and do not typically see themselves as strong or confident. This lack of confidence will affect a person with anxiety a great deal because if you cannot believe in yourself than you cannot trust yourself. If you cannot trust yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin then you will not be able to feel comfortable in most situations you confront.
Often times, anxiety is a result of a person’s circumstances. Whether it is not being given proper security as a child or having lived under circumstances that prevented you from feeling secure, validated or competent, each life event is significant and will contribute to your overall sense of self-worth. With a poor sense of self-worth comes a high degree of second-guessing, thinking in the negative, and assuming the worst. This results in fear and worries, which in turn triggers symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety is a difficult thing to live with. If you suffer from anxiety it will affect you on a wider scale than just being nervous or tense in scary or difficult situations. It will affect you at your core and at varying degrees. If any of the questions listed in this article resonated with you it is likely that you suffer from some form or level of anxiety.