Many of us are familiar with at least a few common symptoms of anxiety — clammy hands, an unshakeable feeling of unease, tense muscles, and an increased heart rate. For some, anxiety can feel like nausea or an inability to catch their breath.
Anxiety has many more physical and psychological symptoms. Each type of anxiety disorder announces itself in unique ways, and the experience of anxiety is different for every individual.
It’s normal to feel anxious some of the time — low levels of worry about the future or the outcome of a particular event can actually improve our performance.
An anxiety disorder, however, feels far different than just being under a little bit of pressure. For people with anxiety disorders, fearing negative consequences isn’t just an incentive to do better on a test or on a date; negative possibilities become a way of thinking about everything.
People with an anxiety disorder worry constantly.
- They fear the worst is about to happen.
- They feel their anxiety is unmanageable and out of control. In fact, anxiety controls them, determining how their life unfolds. They often want to avoid situations or people that make them feel anxiety, because the mental stress is too great.
- Anxiety is future-focused worry. Anxiety sufferers feel apprehensive and negative about most things that have yet to happen. Possibilities hold greater power over their emotional state than the actual likelihood that something will actually occur.
- Overwhelmed with worry, it becomes difficult for them to concentrate on anything else.
- Anxiety disorders are unrealistic: Despite realizations that airplanes are generally safe, people with a phobia of flying cannot bring themselves to board an airplane.
- Constant worry keeps them alert even when they need rest. They consistently have trouble falling asleep, wake up in the middle of the night and cannot return to sleep, or wake up in the morning to a racing mind – all probable symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
In moderation, emotions like anxiety and fear can help spur us to physical action. When fear and anxiety become predominant figures in our daily life, their effects on the body can be damaging.
- Muscle tension – During moments of high anxiety, sufferers might find themselves tensing their jaw, neck, or other muscle groups. With anxiety as their constant companion, they are unable to relax. Chronic anxiety sufferers often stop noticing they are tense because it has come to feel like their normal state.
- Indigestion – The digestive systems of the body are attuned to our psychological well-being. Symptoms like constipation, stomachaches, and diarrhea can occur with and can actually increase anxiety.
- Over-breathing or shallow breathing – Anxiety can make sufferers feel like they’re not getting enough oxygen, which in turn increases heart rate and stress.
- Weakness and fatigue – When anxiety takes over, the body responds. A body that believes something bad is about to happen can react in a variety of ways. Anxiety sufferers might sweat profusely or begin to tremble. Constant physiological activation will leave them feeling exhausted.
Many symptoms are specific to the type of anxiety you experience. Flashbacks are common indicators of PTSD, while intense, debilitating episodes of fear can be a sign of panic disorder. People with generalized anxiety disorder are more likely to experience broader symptoms like fatigue and headaches.
If you’re regularly experiencing some of these signs, and fear and worry are preventing you from living the life you want, it could be time to seek help.