12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder
It was Monday, the weekend was over. This was the big day. Cindy’s big day. Her day to shine. It was the day she would win her company the tender they had been eyeing.
She was well prepared. Her presentation was all memorized and her charts and tables available through her flash drive. She understood the importance of using visuals during presentations. Before leaving her office, she checks to confirm that she carried everything.
Laptop? Check. Flash drive? Check. Notes (just in case)? Check.
All was well.
The driver pulls off the kerb and Cindy is on her way to meet her client. She pictures herself making the presentation. Will the procurement director be alone? Will the finance director be part of the team? What if the president of the firm attends as well?
She has to impress. Does her dress look executive? Did she choose the right color? Is it too short? Cindy’s heart is racing. How will she start the presentation if the president attends? Are the figures she has indicated for Return on Investment accurate?
Of course they are. Her finance team worked on them and she confirmed everything. All the same, she decides to confirm. She pulls out her laptop and plugs the flash drive. She needs to check those figures again. Anyway, does it harm to confirm? At least she will be confident that all is fine, won’t she?
It is very normal to be tense and nervous before an important engagement. For example before a job interview, meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time, going on your first date or just your first day at work.
There are times when the nervousness starts consuming you to the point of being unsure about something you just confirmed. In this case, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. This is what Cindy was going through.
WHAT IS AN ANXIETY DISORDER?
An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition which is characterized by feelings of fear, worry and anxiety. These feelings are usually strong enough to interfere with your daily activities. You worry about a future event which you are not sure how best to handle.
Or you just feel incapable of managing it.
Although you can normally have these feelings and control them, that is not the case when you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. With an anxiety disorder, the feelings are intense, overwhelming and can stop you from performing your normal duties.
TYPES OF ANXIETY DISORDERS
Anxiety disorders are a class of mental conditions which manifest in different ways. Some of these anxiety disorders have symptoms which overlap. As such, you may show signs of a particular disorder but after talking to your doctor, realize that you actually have a different disorder.
Anxiety disorders are not always easy to accurately diagnose. But openly talking to your doctor and him possibly carrying out some examinations will lead to the right diagnosis.
Below we discuss the different types of anxiety disorders.
Generalized anxiety disorder
You will be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) if you are excessively anxious and worried about everyday life events. You worry about everything from money, health, work to family.
These worries are usually either unrealistic or exaggerated such that they do not align with the reality of the situation. An accurate diagnosis is given when you worry more often than not for a duration of at least six months.
Although in an ideal situation you should be able to control your worry, you find this to be impossible. Thus your life becomes a continuous cycle of worry. You always anticipate negative outcomes and see the worst possibilities coming to pass.
GAD affects 6.8 million American adults annually with women being twice as likely as men to be affected.
With many negative thoughts clouding your mind, it becomes difficult to even go through the day. It is possible that you may later on realize that your fears were exaggerated. Unfortunately, this may not register solidly enough to enable you control your thoughts.
This disorder is characterized by reoccurring panic attacks. The panic attacks occur suddenly and without warning. And since you do not know when the next one will come, you live with a fearful anticipation of it.
This makes you afraid of going to some places, especially if you have experienced a panic attack before while there.
A panic disorder can greatly interfere with your life as you seek to avoid social activities or even responsibilities. You may for example avoid making a presentation which is part of your job because the last time you did it, you suffered a panic attack.
It is estimated that 1.5-4% of the general public suffer from panic disorder. Although it mostly affects people from early adulthood, children also suffer from panic disorder.
Obsessive compulsory disorder (OCD)
This condition affects your mind and makes you keep certain persistent thoughts of the need to repeat certain actions.
The thoughts are what are referred to as obsessions, in that you cannot stop thinking about specific things. You become preoccupied with those thoughts until they form your basis of action.
As the thoughts continue, the actions become your habits, thus forming the compulsions. These are the things you do everyday—or very often—even without questioning the rationale.
OCD is a problem because the obsessions and compulsions tie you up to a lifestyle of distress.
For example, you may have worrisome thoughts about how contaminated your environment is. Since you do not want to be infected, you have to perform an action so as to stay safe. The compulsion then becomes an excessive washing of your hands and kitchen as many times as possible to guarantee cleanliness.
You may also have disturbing thoughts and mental images about the security of your home. To guarantee safety as you leave, you lock your house and then confirm that you have done it well. As you walk from your door, you feel the urge to just confirm one final time that the lock is intact.
After this confirmation, you may feel the need to check your windows and even confirm that the space between the door and the floor is not big enough for someone to slip something through. In all these, your mind paints images of possible security breaches.
In reality, your neighborhood may be adequately safe. More than that, as you perform these checks, you are definitely running out of time for your meetings or work.
Phobias are intense fears. The kind of fears that can literally stop you from going to a place or doing something for fear of what may happen.
One common fear is the fear of heights, also known as acrophobia.
If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, you have other fears which interfere with your normal life. These stop you from going to places you should go to or doing things you are supposed to do.
An example is agoraphobia, the fear of being in places where you think escape or finding help may not be possible. You therefore avoid such places since they may trigger panic attacks.
For you to comfortably go to such places, you will often need the company of someone else so as to get the assurance of safety.
Another phobia is glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. You may have had a bad experience before or you simply cannot bring yourself to speak in public. Although many people have this fear, the difference for you is that you are certain of suffering a panic attack, something you have to avoid.
Check out the below video to get some tips for overcoming glossophobia.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can be debilitating as it causes your mind to re-live past traumatic events. The cause is a past event which you either experienced personally or witnessed. This event registered in your mind as something which you should never experience again.
It may be an involvement in a car accident. To avoid such an event from happening again, you decided never to drive a car. Or be driven but never to sit at the front. Still, any signs of a potential accident like the screeching of brakes, can send you into an anxiety attack.
Another cause of PTSD can be the death of a close relative. For example, you probably lost one of your children due to an illness. The next time someone in your family becomes sick, it will be sufficient to trigger an anxiety attack.
You will instantly remember the loss of your other child and see the death occurring again in this other family member.
Social anxiety disorder
This is also called social phobia. It is the fear of the everyday social interactions that happen in life. You become fearful of being judged by others or wrongly evaluated.
If having social anxiety disorder, then you will generally be afraid of what others will think about you. What they will think of your appearance, the words you use, what will happen if you stumble over words, whether you will be viewed as boring etc.
As a result, you will avoid every kind of social event so as to stay away from the possible judgment from others.
Other fears which you may have are being afraid of embarrassment and humiliation. You may also be afraid of being introduced to someone or being watched while doing something.
SIGNS OF AN ANXIETY DISORDER
Any of the above anxiety disorders can affect you. Although some people may be at higher risk, environmental conditions can make everyone susceptible.
One of the factors that can lead to some of these is your upbringing. If you never had an opportunity to interact with people and did not learn how to express yourself well, you may have a problem doing so as an adult.
There are instances where you may feel nervous yet you are not suffering from an anxiety disorder. An example is when you are approached by the person you have a crush on. You may feel too shy to even look at them in the eye. You may even be unable to speak.
Does this mean you have an anxiety disorder?
Shyness is just a feeling of awkwardness or apprehension and goes away as soon as you get to know the other person. On the other hand, anxiety disorders are characterized by symptoms which occur more than once. As a result you do whatever you can to try and avoid them.
Even feelings of nervousness are common among people, especially when about to do something they don’t usually do. Still, that does not qualify them to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Below are 12 signs you can use to diagnose yourself and know whether you could be having an anxiety disorder.
1. Excessive worry
Worry is normal for everyone. The difference when it comes to anxiety disorders is that it is too much. This worry is also completely unexplainable in rational ways.
If you find yourself worrying about virtually everything, then chances are that you have an anxiety disorder. You will usually be worried about your health, work, family, traffic and everything else. All this with a lot of exaggeration. This excess worry can have effects beyond your mind.
Whereas it’s possible to worry then come up with a way to prevent the worrying situation from either happening or escalating, you are not able to do this. For you, the preferred solution is usually to avoid facing the situation. If you have to face it, then you’ll be extra careful as you approach it.
This leads to a huge impact on the way you live your life. In an attempt to avoid worrying situations, you end up avoiding many activities, even responsibilities.
The downside of this is that you reduce your chances of interacting with people, thus keeping yourself from facing and dealing with the underlying fear.
If you choose to approach the situation with extra care, then you put too much focus on the potential mistakes that could happen and end up being consumed by them. When mistakes occur, your fears haunt you, confirming that you should not have gotten into the situation in the first place.
This makes you more inclined to avoid similar situations in the future.
2. Chronic indigestion
Anxiety, as a condition affecting the mind, has far-reaching effects. Not only does it affect your mood but also your digestive processes.
The indigestion problem will typically start in your mouth, exactly where digestion starts. Since you are likely to be eating fast when feeling tense, you will not have chewed your food properly. As this food goes down your gut, several symptoms of indigestion may occur, including bloating and general digestion discomfort.
At the same time, the neurotransmitter serotonin plays an important role in digestion. Known to be one of the feel-good hormones, serotonin is also essential in the regulation of intestinal movements.
When you have an anxiety disorder, serotonin levels are low. And a deficiency in serotonin causes digestion problems, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, among other health disorders.
From the below video, you will learn more about indigestion caused by anxiety and some ways to manage the problem.
3. Sleep problems
You can only sleep well if your mind is at peace. If you have any anxiety disorder, your mind cannot enjoy peaceful times. At least in most cases. Your mind simply has too much to think about.
With an anxiety disorder, your mind will normally be very active at night, just as it was during the day, if not more. You will remember all the things which went wrong and start working on solutions. This is in anticipation of similar or worse problems which you feel will come up the following day.
You may find that you have the energy to perform tasks and so you stay awake some more. If you go to bed, you may keep tossing and turning instead of sleeping. This is because your mind is trying to figure out how to avoid a repeat of the uncomfortable situations which caused you anxiety today.
This leads to activity in your brain at a time when your circadian rhythm indicates that it’s time to sleep. Sleep is important for the replenishment of worn out body tissues to enable you be ready to carry out the necessary activities the following day.
Lack of sleep or having it in irregular patterns sets the stage for a challenging day ahead. You will not have rested enough and your body will not be in a position to perform as expected. The condition you have will therefore be worsened because you will wake up knowing that you did not have enough rest.
This fuels your fear of possibly making mistakes or being unable to concentrate while at work. You become afraid of dozing at work. You continue with the thinking and see the danger of being discovered sleeping in your office. You can only imagine the worst. Losing your job.
It is possible that at this point, you will call in sick, just to avoid losing your job.
This is when you take self-awareness to the extreme. You think too much about what you are doing, how you’re dressed, how you’re walking, talking, carrying your bag, holding your pen etc. You think that something is wrong with the way you are doing things and people are noticing.
When you become self-conscious, you are likely to actually start being clumsy. This can be caused by your mind focusing much of its attention on the part of your body which you are thinking about. As a result, other parts of your body which need to be functioning simultaneously get affected.
For example, you might be walking into your office and start focusing on how long your strides are.
You may not properly judge the position of the stairs and end up missing a step. Your colleagues may be sorry for you and even express it. But your mind tells you how this is evidence that something is not right with you.
You now have two different things troubling your mind: your walking and thoughts of what your colleagues think about it. When you finally get to your office, the only urge you have is to hide and wish you could erase the memory of what happened earlier from the minds of your colleagues.
Considering that anxiety disorders exaggerate your fears, you decide not to go to the cafeteria during tea break. You don’t even go out for lunch. This only serves to pile pressure on you.
Self-consciousness is mainly a result of a past negative experience or something that caused you shame and embarrassment in public. All the same, you can overcome self-consciousness.
These are most common with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What feeds this disorder is the recall of the traumatic event that happened in the past.
70% of Americans have experienced a traumatic event in their lives with up to 20% of them developing PTSD.
Flashbacks acts like a constant reminder of the experience you had and the thought of it causes you distress. This is regardless of how long ago the event took place.
After experiencing a traumatic event, the memory does not disappear. In fact, to enable you stay safe, your mind will keep a very vivid copy of that event so as to warn you of similar events.
The challenge then becomes getting over the situation and knowing that it won’t happen again.
To get to that point requires some work with a psychotherapist. You need to see the experience as an unfortunate event that happened once and is not likely to happen again.
An effective way of reducing the magnitude of flashbacks which are symptoms of PTSD is through Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). This type of therapy helps you work on the thoughts and emotions which fuel the flashbacks so that you keep them under control.
Another equally effective therapy is the exposure therapy. In this therapy, you will be guided by your therapist on confronting your fears of the event. After the therapy, what used to trigger flashbacks is no longer a threat.
6. Irrational fears
All anxiety disorders have fear as their root cause. It is all about the fear of something bad happening.
These fears communicate a threat that will interfere with your life. As such, you will automatically choose safety and avoid the situation which is a perceived threat.
The fears are evidently irrational because of their exaggerated nature. There are dangers involved in going to certain places or doing certain things but your perception of these fears is out of proportion.
For example, the Amazon forest has some dangerous animals. You may have seen them in documentary videos. But the problem is that you may start imagining some of those animals, especially the snakes, sneaking up on you. This is despite you living miles away from the Amazon rainforest.
You can however rationalize your fears by thinking of how they easily move in search of prey.
Alternatively, you may not realize this fear until when you later get an invitation to go camping. Immediately, you remember what you have seen in documentaries.
You imagine the dangers posed by the animals which crawl at night and even see them attacking you while sleeping. You respond to these fears by turning down the camping invitation.
Another sign of an anxiety disorder is having self-doubt. Doubting your own judgments and abilities makes you unable to do much, if anything at all. You will not be able to make any decisions about your work, thus keep inquiring on what to do. Even when it is all in your power to act accordingly.
You will also be unsure about your ability to achieve your dreams.
For example, you may have thought of starting a business but are not sure whether you can make it. You may be clouded with thoughts of potential loss-making and eventually decide not to start the business.
Even in the event of possible job losses, self-doubt makes you stuck in your current position. Maintaining the status quo becomes your preferred choice although you can see danger approaching.
If someone offers you an opportunity to engage in business, you will still imagine the business going down. From that point, you imagine the shame you will experience after failing in business.
Doubting yourself will never show you how you can build a profitable business and employ others. Instead, you will always have the negative thoughts of failing.
Many people all over the world suffer from perfectionism. This is where you want everything you do to be perfect.
There are bosses who literally drum this idea into the minds of their employees. But a pursuit of perfection is actually one in futility because perfection can never be achieved. This is because the state of affairs will always be changing.
What is perfect now may not be prefect in the next hour.
For you however, perfection is a dream you constantly chase, determined to catch. Despite not having registered any success so far, you feel a strong urge to continue pursuing it. This keeps you in a cycle of potential stress as you seek to achieve it.
Failing to achieve perfection sets the ground for anxious thoughts and self-criticism which lead you to condemnation. Seeing that you are unable to do things perfectly, you start doubting your abilities.
Perfectionism can also affect your performance in other ways. For example, it may make you take longer than necessary to make a decision. This is because you are striving to make a perfect decision.
The good news is that just like other tendencies, you can stop the effects of perfectionism by making some changes. You can do a great job, not a perfect one.
If left unchecked, perfectionism can greatly affect your work as well as other aspects of your life. It can negatively impact your relationships because you may come across as someone who is expecting too much of others.
9. Stage fright
Many people admire those who confidently walk to a stage and in front of many people, successfully deliver a speech and the audience celebrates them. You probably have desired being able to do that but cannot bring yourself to even try it.
Perhaps you tried once but it didn’t work out well. This may be what formed your basis of glossophobia.
Your fear of public speaking makes you see the audience in one of three perspectives. First, as a distraction which makes you forget your speech and confuses you.
Secondly, as a judge of your performance. You become alive to the fact that no matter how well you perform, the audience may just think otherwise.
Thirdly, the perspective you most possibly hold, is that the audience is a determiner of your social standing. This is where the biggest fear lies. You fear being labeled not good enough.
This fear is likely to make you conclude that indeed you are not good enough. And the possible reasoning? If you were good enough, would you be experiencing stage fright?
Unknown to you, many successful public speakers experience stage fright. The only difference is that they have learned how to overcome it.
Being unable to comfortably express yourself makes it impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for your talents to be recognized. You may be having a rare skill but since you cannot voice it, no-one notices it.
With your fear of speaking to people, you may even deliberately avoid utilizing your skill so as to avoid being recognized and subsequently asked to talk about it. This denies you and your company or business the opportunity to grow despite the potential within.
If you can understand how stage fright happens, then you will be able to keep the fear at bay. Watch the below video for some insights.
10. Muscle tension
Problems with your mental health will always be felt in other parts of your body. The simple explanation of this is that your mind controls what happens in your whole body.
When you have an anxiety disorder, your muscles tense more often than not. Although muscle tension can occur whenever you have stress, it normally goes away naturally with stress relief. But not for you.
Muscle tension is a direct result of the stressful situations you perceive due to anxiety. When stressed, your body becomes ready for flight or fight. Your muscles contract to help you respond to threats accordingly.
But there being no real threat in the case of anxiety, stress hormones remain high in your body. The more they are around or being often produced, the more you keep experiencing muscle tension.
11. Constant nervousness
A clear and easy-to-detect sign of anxiety is constant nervousness. When you find that you are often distressed and nervous at the thought of doing most things, then you probably have an anxiety disorder.
The most important thing to understand about nervousness is that your subconscious mind is telling you that you are in danger. You may not even identify the real danger but you feel it is out there.
Nervousness is normal and it happens in many instances. Be it a first date, a job interview, the final stage of a competition, everywhere. As powerful and influential as your subconscious mind is, it’s not designed to run your life entirely.
In a normal situation, both the conscious and subconscious parts of your mind communicate to give you the best results. The subconscious knows when to take over and the conscious will allow it. But when one keeps overruling the other, then there is bound to be chaos.
With anxiety disorders, the subconscious often overrules (unknowingly) the conscious by sensing real dangers when they are really small threats which the conscious should handle. Your stress response system kicks in and this keeps you in a perpetual state of “needing to act” so as to ensure safety.
Nervousness can be handled. You just have to be willing to face it.
Anxiety will always rob you of your peace. When others are relaxing and having a chat, you will always have something troubling your mind. You will always have a problem to think about. A solution to come up with so as to stay safe from an impending threat.
You may need to move around in an effort to relax your mind by making it think of other things. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of work being done by your mind.
You have feelings of being on edge and at the same time, might also become irritable.
Restlessness may also make it difficult to accomplish tasks as you lose concentration due to the many thoughts you have in your mind. You may also feel cramps in your arms or legs whenever you are lying down or seated. These prompt you to move.
Another symptom of restlessness is tapping your feet or hands and being easily distracted. You will also have a problem organizing things at home or your office and struggle managing time.
Anxiety disorders are treatable. All you have to do is seek professional medical help. Your lifestyle also determines how fast you get relief from the disorder. If you suffer from other conditions, treatment can also take longer than expected.
Be open with your doctor and discuss every concern you have, including the cost of treatment. You will be pleased to know that there are low-cost treatment options in case one therapist is not able to work with you on cost.
Some forms of treatment include learning how to deal with stress, some relaxation techniques as well as including exercises in your daily routines. You can also get relief from talking to someone who is understanding and supportive. You can also connect with this online community.
While seeking or undergoing treatment, remember that you are on a journey of improving the quality of your life. Therefore, it is important to stay positive and surround yourself with the right kind of support.
Anxiety disorders can affect anyone and so you should not be afraid of talking about it. The earlier you talk to your doctor, the sooner things get better for you. So, contact him today for a diagnosis and start your treatment.