I have lived with anxiety most of my life, so when I was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), my mind was blown. You mean there are people out there who aren’t constantly worrying? What’s that like?
I have spent a lot of time contemplating what these people think about with all that extra space in their brains. How would I ever fill the time? Would I finally have the mental real estate to learn a new language? Unlock the secret to world peace? Or would I fail to live up to these expectations, proving that it isn’t my anxiety holding me back, but an inherent lack of worth? And now I’m anxious and depressed.
If you can relate, you may now be worrying that you have an anxiety disorder. I am not going to tell you not to worry because that’s probably the least helpful thing you can say to someone who is already worrying (oh, why didn’t I think of that? Everything is better, thank you!).
I will say two things: one, try not to diagnose yourself on the internet. Especially if you are inclined towards anxiety, you have probably already diagnosed yourself with cancer multiple times like I have. The best thing you can do is talk to some sort of healthcare professional who can guide you to the right resources. While anxiety is generally self-diagnosable, the last thing I want is for you to take this blog post as an excuse not to see a medical professional for treatment. I know I have all the symptoms, why would I bother? Because anxiety is a real ailment that impacts your life and wellbeing and should receive equal medical attention as a physical health condition.
Two, try to have hope. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health disorders in the U.S., affecting around 40 million people, and they are also highly treatable. This means that you’re not alone, and you have options.
Signs You May Need Professional Help for Your Anxiety
You feel out of control.
Does it feel like you have no control over how you think, feel, and/or behave? Maybe you are so consumed with anxious thoughts that you didn’t hear a single thing that went on in that meeting. Perhaps you are feeling so fearful and sad that you cancel all your plans with your friends, leaving them concerned. You might know that you have to go to your property management company to pay rent, but the idea of talking to a stranger makes you so nervous that you can’t make yourself go. If you feel like your anxiety is controlling you, you might benefit from professional help.
You’re feeling physical symptoms of anxiety.
You might be able to identify your anxiety by certain mental symptoms. For instance, you may recognize that you are obsessing over something. But many people don’t realize that even if they aren’t thinking about something that makes them anxious, anxiety can manifest in physical ways.
Remember that your body and mind are not really separate. What you think impacts how your body feels, and what your body feels impacts how you think. Even if you are pushing anxious thoughts down and in denial about how you feel, your body knows, and will tell you in ways you can’t ignore. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, a heavy feeling on your chest, or digestive issues, listen to your body and seek help.
Everyone is getting on your nerves.
Does it seem like everyone is annoying you recently? Chances are, you haven’t suddenly found yourself surrounded by assholes — irritability is actually a symptom of anxiety. This one can be tough to deal with, but I have found it can be a helpful indication that something is going on for me. If my friend is talking and I am finding myself getting annoyed by them for no apparent reason, generally, this is because my anxiety wants my attention too. So I try to pause for a moment and think back to what exactly is distracting me from this conversation.
You can’t sleep.
Again, this could be your body’s way of telling you something is up. I can’t even tell you how many times this has happened: I am exhausted by 6 p.m. I am complaining to everyone I know how tired I am and how much I can’t wait to go to bed. Then bedtime rolls around, and I am doing everything I can to avoid it. Suddenly I have to organize my Tupperware right then or I won’t be able to do anything the next day. I have to make more progress on the book I am reading so that I can return it to my friend in a timely manner so they don’t think I am a slow reader (and maybe they will even call me a fast reader, which is a comment that I find very flattering for some reason). My phone is a fascinating portal that I must fall down for hours instead of sleep.
On my healthiest days, I recognize that I am having some anxiety, take my anxiety med, journal about it, and do my best to set aside my worries for another day. Regardless of what will work for you, talking to a specialist about your anxiety may help you get better sleep.
You avoid social situations.
Sometimes, there is nothing better than the sweet sound of your phone buzzing to let you know that your plans have been cancelled. Wanting alone time, or even preferring it, is not in itself a sign of anxiety.
However, if you’re always dodging Facebook invites out of fear, or you spend social situations analyzing your every movement with a critical eye, you could have social anxiety.
Many people are surprised to learn that I struggle with social anxiety. I have a management position at a 600+ person company and I was the president or my sorority senior year, so I can see why people who don’t know me that well get confused when I say this.
On the outside, I appear very socially easy. I am not trying to brag but, I’m likable. I know how to make people feel good and I am very go-with-the-flow, so I don’t tend to cause much conflict. On the inside of my brain, however, my anxious brain is often going a mile a minute. In times when my social anxiety is really bad, I have felt like I was reading people’s minds, and they were thinking awful things about me.
After years of therapy, I have come to a place where I can identify when my socially anxious thoughts are irrational. I can give myself a mean mirror pep talk at this point. The thoughts are still there, but I just don’t give them the weight that I used to. It has taken a lot of patience and practice, but it’s possible to cope with social anxiety.
If you feel like you can relate to any of these signs, it’s a good idea to talk to someone about them. I personally recommend connecting with a licensed counselor, and if you need help finding one, I have written a guide on how to find a therapist. If you’re experiencing physical symptoms, it’s also wise to consult with your doctor who can help rule out any medical causes of your anxiety.
Anxiety sucks, but it’s manageable once you figure out the right treatment for you. The key is to be patient with yourself and celebrate even the small victories. If you have any tips for getting anxiety treatment, I would love to hear from you in the comments!