Am I worrying too much? Why can't I stop overthinking? Is this just stress or something serious? More people than you think are asking these questions. Anxiety affects around 19% of people in the United States, or approximately 40 million American adults.
Anxiety can be harder to treat if you wait. That's why it's so important to recognize the symptoms of anxiety as soon as possible and receive proper help.
It can be tricky at first: anxiety symptoms and signs can vary a lot, as there are many types of anxiety disorders. It gets even more complicated as two people with the same anxiety disorder can have their anxiety manifest in different ways! Yet, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: it's an overwhelming worry and stress that affects your body, thoughts, and feelings. Worrying can't be handled efficiently and can interfere with your day-to-day life, and your happiness.
So the first thing you should ask yourself if you want to find out whether you have anxiety is: do my worries impact my life, future goals, work, and/or relationship?
If the answer is yes, don't panic. Take a moment to realize that anxiety disorders are easily treatable with the right methods.
Coping with anxiety starts by identifying what type of anxiety might be troubling you. Here are the 7 main ones.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This type of anxiety is marked by excessive worrying about anything. All the time. People with GAD live with the constant feeling that danger is just around the corner. They can overthink about anything in their everyday life, from dinner choices to investment possibilities. Their mind is prone to jumping to the worst-case scenario: being late to work can instantly turn into a fear of getting fired.
The most common GAD signs to look out for:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mind going blank when stressed
- Feeling restless
- Tense muscles
- Sleep problems
If you have been experiencing these symptoms for at least 6 months, it would be a good idea to see your doctor or mental health professional.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
SAD also called social phobia is the stress and fear people feel when interacting with others. Typical situations which make these people really uncomfortable include going to a party, meeting people they don't know, having a conversation with a colleague, and giving a speech in front of others. The 3 main symptoms of SAD are:
- You may fear embarrassing yourself or getting humiliated by others.
- You may avoid social situations. If, after all, you choose or are forced to attend these events, you will feel extremely anxious before and during them.
- You may experience the fear that is out of proportion. Even if you attend a gathering of the friendliest people on the planet, SAD may make you feel uneasy and prepared to face the embarrassing situations you are imagining.
Panic disorder is marked by recurring panic attacks. A panic attack is a brief bout of extreme anxiety that lasts from 5 to 30 minutes. For some, however, it can last up to an hour. A panic attack must have four or more of the following physical and mental signs to be identified as such:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of suffocation
- Unpleasant sensations or pain in the chest area
- Feelings of chills or heat
- Depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself) or derealization (feeling detached from reality)
- The fear of losing control or going insane
- Thinking that you are about to die
Yet, the panic attack alone is not enough to be diagnosed with a panic disorder. A person should also feel the uncontrollable fear to experience another panic attack and try everything they can in order to avoid it. If the last attack occurred in a public place, it may mean refusing to leave the house.
If you experience repetitive panic attacks without panic disorder symptoms, that doesn't mean you shouldn’t seek help. You might be suffering from recurrent panic attacks, another anxiety disorder, or going through a very stressful period in your life.
Phobias are the most common anxiety disorders in the U.S., with around half of the people with anxiety disorders suffering from them. How is a phobia different from regular fear? Here are some of the key differences:
- Phobia is a fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the danger. Let's face it: the spider can't probably harm you, but just looking at it can be terrifying for some. Those eyes, you know...
- It interferes with what you want to do in life. You start actively avoiding encounters with the scary thing or situation. For example, acrophobia can make you skip a job interview just because the office is on the 30th floor.
- The phobia won't quiet down quickly, and its intensity doesn't depend on the situation. You may be afraid of a big, angry German Shepard, but feel safe around chihuahuas. Phobia, on the contrary, can make you feel stressed even thinking about your friend's well-educated and friendly dog.
Note that phobias in adults could have no observable signs, apart from active attempts to avoid situations that worry them. Children, on the other hand, may express their phobias by crying, having a tantrum, or clinging to their caregivers.
Agoraphobia is distinguished from other phobias because it's not a reaction to any specific danger. Agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations in which it is impossible to escape or seek help if something goes wrong. Many of us have a friend who will secretly check the windows and vent holes when entering the room. If you are that friend, check if you’re feeling uncomfortable when:
- Using public transport
- Being in open spaces
- Being in closed places
- Standing in line or in a crowd
- Being outside alone
If you do, here are other signs to consider:
- You always feel afraid or anxious when in this situation, even experiencing panic attacks.
- You may actively avoid being in this situation.
- You know that the fear is not realistic and is overly intense.
If you start to experience anxiety in safe places, don’t try to avoid them - this can strengthen your anxiety. Instead, visit these places as often as possible, or seek professional help.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People with OCD often have repetitive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions). For example, it can be a constant worry that they forgot something important, such as turning off the stove. Some people develop specific rituals (compulsions) to alleviate their obsessions, such as checking the stove four times before leaving the house. These obsessions and compulsions can take quite a lot of time to perform every day, and may also be really uncomfortable for the individual or people around them. Here are the 5 main OCD signs:
- Fear of contamination. Individuals are afraid of germs that they may be exposed to by interacting with other people and public spaces. They can try to reduce the risk by excessively cleaning or grooming.
- Symmetry or ordering. Individuals feel uneasy when the objects are not organized in a certain way, or if their order is somehow disrupted.
- Checking. Individuals worry that they haven't done something and constantly check things, such as whether they locked the door, or turned off the stove. And this isn't just something people double-check. These checks can happen many times, several times a day. Another example is examining their body for signs of physical illness on a regular basis.
- Intrusive thoughts. These are repetitive and unpleasant thoughts related to harm, such as accidentally hitting a pedestrian with a car, or doing something that will bring misfortune to their loved one. Intrusive thoughts can also revolve around violent, religious, or sexual topics, and will be disturbing and repugnant to the person. They can also manifest as extended considerations about abstract ideas, such as kindness or beauty.
- Hoarding. A person will have difficulties throwing away useless things or rubbish.
There is no complete list of OCD sings, and it is best to consult with a professional who can identify the disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can develop after a traumatic experience in a person's life. During our lives, we all experience distressing and disturbing events, but for some, one such event can leave a profound, long-lasting effect. Traumatic experiences return in flashbacks, nightmares, or constant rumination. The person may try to shut their thoughts down and avoid things and situations, which might remind them about past experiences.
Some other signs of PTSD include:
- You are constantly on guard, trying to foresee something awful before it happens.
- You may experience hyperarousal and get alerted by the smallest triggers.
- You may struggle with sleep problems.
- You may experience general irritability and anger.
If emotional, physical, and behavioral changes persist for at least a month after a traumatic experience, you should consider seeing a mental health professional.
So, what should you do next?
If you recognize yourself in one of these descriptions, you may feel scared, lost, and probably more anxious than before. Dealing with anxiety may sometimes feel like trying to stop a monkey clapping cymbals – almost impossible.
But you shouldn't lose hope. There is evidence that medications or even lifestyle changes can significantly improve your mental health, while therapy can help in just several months.
Whatever you decide to try, don't lose determination. Remember that anxiety is highly treatable, and if you will need extra help on your journey towards breaking free from your worries, we at DoMental are always ready to help you.