Anxiety is a familiar feeling, it’s the automatic reaction of our bodies when we are in danger. An increase in heart rate and a boost of adrenaline. It’s common to get anxious before a test or having to go on stage.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines it as, “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”. For most people these small bouts of anxiety are important. They help us focus and overcome tough challenges.
But, for people with anxiety disorders, it’s very different. The duration and severity of an anxious feeling characterize an anxiety disorder. For individuals with these disorders, the anxious feedback is constant and can be overwhelming.
The World Health Organisation reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the world, with 1 in 13 people on the planet suffering from an anxiety disorder. Since they’re so common these disorders are easily treated.
If multiple anxiety symptoms persist for over 6 months and are interfering with daily functioning, then it may be time to see a professional.
So, here are some common signs of anxiety:
By far, the most common symptom of anxiety disorders is excessive worrying.
Individuals with Generalised Anxiety Disorder may worry about normal things like money, work, and personal health to such an extent that it may interfere in their social life, work settings, and family interactions.
The same can be said for individuals with a panic disorder who may spend a large amount of time worrying about their next panic attack and cause significant alterations to their social life in the process.
People with phobias may also excessively worry about their specific fears and take active steps to avoid the object of their phobia.
Fatigue is a seemingly undercover symptom of anxiety. Of course, other factors may cause fatigue. But, constant tiredness, accompanied by excessive worrying could be an indication of anxiety. Especially since anxiety is also associated with difficulty sleeping, muscle tension and other heightened biological responses.
Brain fog or brain blankness is a common symptom of anxiety.
You may have heard classmates in school complaining of blanking out while writing a difficult paper. Individuals with anxiety face this regularly, in different degrees. The higher the anxiety, the more overwhelmed they get.
However, brain fog can also be a symptom of other mental illnesses and so must be considered along with the presence of other anxiety symptoms.
Individuals with phobias tend to have irrational fears of specific situations or objects like fear of flying or spiders. They are aware that the fears are excessive and they are not likely to be harmed but they cannot control the distress those objects or situations cause. This may lead them to actively avoid scenarios where they would have to encounter their fears.
Avoiding uncomfortable situations
In the same vein, there are people with social anxiety disorder, which is “intense fear of, or anxiety toward social or performance situations”. These individuals tend to actively avoid social situations because they tend to be afraid of judgement by others. This is most commonly seen in school or workplace settings.
Irritability and anxiety tend to occur together. Individuals with Generalised Anxiety have reported a significant increase in irritability in times of high anxiety. They also tend to report twice as much irritability as those without anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is also correlated with difficulty sleeping. Excessive worrying and restlessness have been found to keep individuals with anxiety awake for much longer than the average individual.
Sleep disturbances are also common with many individuals reporting waking up multiple times every night.
Unexpected panic attacks
Panic attacks are sudden instances of extreme fear that come on quickly and cause severe distress. They can come on unexpectedly or be caused by a trigger. Individuals with panic disorder tend to have unexpected panic attacks with seemingly no trigger. They can cause severe heart palpitations, difficulty breathing and feelings of impending doom and loss of control.
Since they’re very obvious physical reactions, individuals with panic disorder tend to have anxiety about getting panic attacks in public places with no warning. This can be extremely debilitating and can prevent them from participating in social activities or, in extreme cases, even from leaving their houses.
Muscle tension has been reported by a large percentage of individuals suffering from anxiety. It is believed to be because your body goes into a heightened state of awareness in times of anxiety. This involves your brain pushing blood from your digestive system to your muscles and while this would be useful if you were facing a threat, it can be extremely uncomfortable if you’re simply worried.
There is also research to suggest that individuals with anxiety require more time to unwind and destress.
Heightened biological responses
Excessive sweating, heart palpitations, a feeling of being on edge or restless are also symptoms of anxiety. Since anxiety releases stress hormones in the body, several biological reactions occur including, increased heart rate, alertness and heightened awareness. All of these can be uncomfortable and a cause for concern. Especially if they are regular and occur along with other symptoms of anxiety.