Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder?

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!

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How to Find a Therapist

Finding a therapist sucks. Whether you have a mental illness, suspect that you do, or are just having a difficult time and need someone to talk to, a therapist is a powerful tool for healing and problem-solving. Yet when you’re going through hell, taking the time to find a therapist can be exhausting. However, the right therapist can completely change your life, so it is worth it to put effort into the search, even when it seems completely daunting. To make it a little easier for you, I have broken down the process to give you a jumping off point.

Understand the Labels

First of all, there are a couple of different types of therapists that you can see, so it is a good idea to know what they are to see which one is best for you.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health. They are licensed to prescribe medication and also provide psychotherapy. Psychiatrists are a great option if you are struggling with severe mental health symptoms that may benefit from medication. Psychiatrist’s sessions do tend to be more expensive, so if you don’t think medication is right for you and are really just looking for therapy, a psychiatrist may not be necessary.

Psychologist

Psychologists have doctoral degrees in psychology and are licensed to provide psychotherapy and psychological testing. While they can’t prescribe medication, they can diagnose you with mental health conditions, and refer you to a psychiatrist if need be. They generally offer cognitive behavior therapy, which helps address your mental health goals by helping you change thought and/or behavioral patterns that are harmful.

Social Worker

You can find a social worker either in a healthcare or social services setting, or some provide private counseling in their own office. They are trained to provide empathetic counseling to help people improve their mental health by addressing interpersonal problems, like family or relationship issues. Social workers are great mediators who may be able to help you if you want couples or family counseling, but they can also counsel one-on-one.

Licensed Counselor

A licensed counselor has at least a master’s degree in counseling and a license from the state in which they practice to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and emotional problems. They can provide help for a whole range of issues, and a session is often more affordable than one with a psychiatrist or psychologist because they don’t require as much higher education to practice.

Keep in mind that having more education, a higher certification, or more years of experience does not necessarily mean that one therapist is better than the other. A newly licensed therapist who has a good grasp on your problem and who jives well with you could help you much more than a psychiatrist with 25 years of experience who you can’t seem to connect with. Keep an open mind to different types of therapists in your search.

Explore Your Options

One way to start looking for therapists is through your health insurance. Many companies will have a provider list on their website that allows you to search for specialists who are covered by your policy. You can also ask your doctor for a referral, or see if your friends or family know of anyone. Another great resource is Psychology Today, where therapists can put up profiles so you can see what they specialize in, get a general idea of their counseling style, and if they take your insurance. The American Psychological Association (APA) also has a similar type of search function on their site as well.

Think About What is Important to You

Once you have a few options, consider what you need in a therapist. There are the more obvious things, such as being nonjudgmental and empathetic, but also think about little logistical things that will influence how much you get out of therapy. For example, consider the location of any potential therapist; is that somewhere you are going to be able to get to on a regular basis? That one counselor who is an hour away may seem like a great personality fit, but if there is a different therapist who is located within five miles of your home who could help you too, you will be more likely to make the trek each week. Additionally, consider what they specialize in and whether their background seems like they would be able to help with your specific needs. You should also think about whether or not you would feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist of a certain gender. Keep an open mind because you may be surprised who can help you, but be honest with yourself about what you really want out of therapy and who can provide it.

Ask Questions

The next step will be to call up your remaining options and see if they are taking new clients. If they are, see if they provide a free consultation session (this is pretty common). Don’t be afraid to schedule these sessions with several therapists to help you figure out which is the best fit. Whether you get in front of them for these questions or they happen over the phone, here are a couple of things you may want to ask:

  • Do you take my insurance? Even if you found this therapist through your health insurance, that information could be outdated, so it is always a good idea to double-check with the therapist.
  • Do you do regular appointments or is scheduling more flexible?
  • What do you specialize in? Even if you saw their list of specialities online, hearing them tell you gives you a better idea of what they truly have a strong background in.
  • What is your approach to therapy?
  • What happens if I have to miss or am late to a session?
  • What do we do during a session? Do I have to do things between sessions like homework?
  • Do you do phone sessions?
  • Do you think you can help me with my problem?

Give it a Try

You might leave your first therapy session feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Starting a new relationship with a therapist can be daunting, and the experience of talking about your deepest feelings for an hour can be really disorienting if you’re not used to it. Don’t let this dissuade you from going back. The benefits of therapy happen over time as you grow your relationship and unpack more of your issues. It may only take few sessions, or you may form a long-term relationship with this therapist, but if you give therapy your best try, you may find that you find relief from whatever is troubling you, or at least, some perspective on it.

I hope these tips help you find a therapist who can truly help you. Godspeed in your search!

XOXO,
Ginzo