Anxiety is a word that is thrown around a lot lately. Have you ever been anxious? Have you ever felt nervous or uneasy in your life? Of course, you have; everyone has. No matter if it is from studying for an exam, expecting a child, or waiting to hear on the big promotion that you are up for at work, having anxiety occasionally is quite normal. It can actually be helpful by motivating you to push a little harder. But, the real question shouldn’t be do I have anxiety, but rather, do I have an anxiety disorder?
Do I have anxiety? Delving deeper into anxiety disorders
Since everyone experiences anxiety and nervousness, it can sometimes be difficult to nail down where exactly the lines lay between the two. However, there are certain symptoms that can help you identify what is natural anxiety and what is excessive. According to the National Institute of Mental Health there are numerous forms of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
This is the number one thing to look out for when diagnosing generalized anxiety disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines generalized anxiety disorder as a disorder that includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events, even those that are mundane. Furthermore, the worry must be out of proportion to the actual circumstances and affect how you feel physically. If anxiety is causing your emotions to inflict a lot of suffering and dysfunction in your life, you should see a medical professional immediately!
We all have had sleep problems, especially the night before a big presentation or event. However, if you are constantly tossing and turning at night, anxiety might be the culprit. If you are finding yourself worrying and obsessing about problems in bed, specific or general, the problem could very well be anxiety. This general state of sleep deprivation can lead to increased sensitivity to pain, especially in those who have chronic pain conditions, which can then lead to a devastating cycle of sleeplessness and increased pain.
Chronic pain and tension
Constant muscle tension in different parts of your body can also be a big sign of an anxiety disorder. This includes areas such as the eyes, chest, joints, throat, and back or shoulders. The stress from anxiety can also cause major stomach problems and exacerbate conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, which can be a serious problem for those fighting chronic pain. This pain can be so pervasive that those who experience these symptoms stop noticing how much strain their bodies are under on any given day.
Imagine being in a calm, tranquil state and a split second later being overwhelmed with terror leading to a racing heart, breathing problems, chest pain, heavy sweating, hot or cold flashes, and tingling limbs. That is just a sample of what it feels like to have a panic attack. Luckily, these attacks usually take less than ten minutes to end, but can feel like a lifetime and leave a lasting psychological mark.
The terror involved in anticipating future panic attacks is also a key component in diagnosing panic disorder. Since panic attacks are usually triggered by a certain event or element, people with this condition tend to avoid the locations where they have had attacks in the past.
Avoiding social situations and being overly self-conscious
If the idea of social gatherings brings a high level of fear and anxiety with it, you might just have social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia. This is a relatively common disorder with 8% of the population suffering from it. It is also one of the most undiagnosed disorders according to a 2010 study.
Getting nervous jitters before public speaking is quite common as it is the number one fear in the U.S., so don’t think all anxiety is related to a disorder. However, if you feel like everyone is always watching and judging you in public situations to the extent that you worry about making conversation or eating and drinking you could be being experiencing social anxiety. This nervousness tends to manifest in blushing, trembling, nausea, sweating, or difficulty talking.
Do I have anxiety if I have some of these symptoms?
Most certainly not. Not all of these symptoms will be present in every manifestation of anxiety, and, while many can overlap between disorders, not all do and it is highly dependent on the person.
The exact causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood by the medical community as of yet. Sometimes, it can be an indicator of an underlying disease, though it may also be an inherited trait. In general, anxiety disorders are triggered by a person experiencing a traumatic life event who is already prone to anxiety.
For more information about specific anxiety disorders, check out this report published by the Cleveland Clinic that details the symptoms broken down by the major anxiety disorders classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV).
Should I see a doctor?
If you are worried about having an anxiety disorder, you are always advised to seek the advice of a medical professional as soon as possible. Here is a quick list of warnings signs:
- If worrying is persistently interfering with your work, relationships, or quality of life in general
- If your fear and worries are upsetting and difficulty to control
- If you have suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- If you battle with depression, alcohol or drug abuse, or have other mental health issues
Still not sure if anxiety is a problem for you? There are some pretty cool online resources you can tap into to help you gauge your own level of anxiety. Check out these two tests from Psychology Today and Anxiety Centre.
What struggles have you faced with anxiety? How do you combat it on a daily basis?