According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” It’s an intense emotion, like a concentrated mixture of fear and worry. In short, it isn’t pleasant. It’s an exhausting, often overwhelming, complex psychological issue to understand.
This could be why when we talk about anxiety, many people imagine it at its most extreme. However, anxiety doesn’t always present itself with the stereotypical panic attack behaviors like rocking back and forth and hyperventilating (although that can certainly be part of what anxious people experience). There are plenty of other things you might relate to if you have anxiety. And since the Our World in Data website tells us that 284 million people struggle with anxiety across the globe, there’s a chance you are one of the people who identify with some of the following:
1. Procrastination is an often-battled enemy
You’re anxious about something coming up in your life. It might be a graded school assignment, it might a big presentation at work. Either way, the result is you scrolling mindlessly through your social media apps, flicking through movies to watch on Netflix, or even going on a cleaning spree —all to avoid doing what you know you’ll eventually need to do. It has to do with how we avoid whatever it is that fills us with apprehension or dread. It’s a cycle that actually perpetuates itself. After you avoid that assignment or presentation, you feel better, but it only leads you to be more anxious in anticipation of doing the thing again. Although many people don’t fully recognize the direct relationship between their anxiety and their tendency to procrastinate, the two frequently go hand-in-hand. Procrastinating is definitely something anxiety-prone people deal with in their lives.
2. Planning ahead can take a lot of effort
If you’re an anxious person, you might have realized that one way to cope is to think about what triggers you and plan to avoid it ahead of time. Being prepared for whatever possible situations, and therefore which emotions and anxieties, might come about sometimes seems like the only way to gain control over rising panic. So you try to look at future circumstances from every angle. Maybe you scribble out lists and ideas on paper, or maybe you let all the prospective options jostle around in your head until the time you were waiting for actually comes. Sound familiar?
3. Canceling plans often feels great
Not all anxious people are introverts, but when you find yourself neck-deep in worry, the thought of being social doesn’t always sound fun. I’m not introverted myself, so I tend to not think twice about making plans with friends. Then when the time comes to actually hang out, I often begin to dwell on all the things I have to do or overthink about something stressful that’s in the back of my mind. Sometimes it’s just that I’m genuinely too tired to hang out because when a person is constantly spinning into a panic, it’s easy to become mentally exhausted. So it follows to say that if you have anxiety, you need adequate time to calm down and recharge. Hence it can feel like a relief when plans fall through.
4. Overanalyzing it when someone’s tone is different
People who experience anxiety are no strangers to overanalysis of, well, pretty much everything. We overanalyze because our brains are constantly scanning our surroundings for potential dangers, looking out for things or situations that might cause us harm. Such a trait might have been good for our early predecessors who needed to look out for wild animals and other predators. But we don’t have to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight anymore, so the hypervigilance of an anxious brain turns its efforts to noticing small changes in, say, the way a friend says hello in a slightly different way than normal. Which, more often than not, doesn’t actually mean anything!
5. Getting annoyed when people confuse stress with GAD
Everyone experiences stress at one point or another, and that’s totally normal. It happens as a result of difficult, demanding, or threatening real factors. Stress can be useful in that it can motivate people to get things accomplished. The anxiety someone feels in Generalized Anxiety Disorder isn’t necessarily a result of actual threatening or stressful factors, though. More than this, it’s debilitating and not motivating. If you fall into the latter category, you’ve probably felt the frustration of someone confusing the two. Comparing a normal human experience to a complicated mental health issue is like comparing apples and oranges, and to do so can be insulting to someone suffering with anxiety.
If you are a generally anxious person, the descriptions above may be commonplace for you. Regardless, it’s important to realize what is related to our anxiety so we can better understand it and therefore better help ourselves.
American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/.
Peterson, Tanya J. StackPath, https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/12/anxiety-and-over-thinking-everything.
Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Mental Health.” Our World in Data, 20 Jan. 2018, https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health.