When you think of the word “anxiety”, what comes into your mind? What do you imagine it might feel like to have it? For many of us, it could be something like a racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, or uncontrollable crying. For others, it could be feelings of overwhelming stress, panic, and fear. But the reality of the matter is, anxiety isn’t always as easy to spot as we think.
According to the American Psychological Association (2013), anxiety is defined as a future-oriented fear that leads people to avoid certain situations that may trigger or worsen their distress. The National Institute of Mental Health (2017) reports that approximately 40 million people all over the globe suffer from anxiety and more emerging each year. This makes it the most widespread mental illness in the world.
And though anxiety disorders are very common and highly treatable, recent surveys still show that over 63% of those suffering from it never seek treatment. Why? Because most of the time, they don’t even know they have it!
It’s important to note that while this list is by no means meant to substitute a medical diagnosis from a trained mental healthcare professional, being able to recognize your anxiety as early as possible can make a positive difference in helping you better overcome it. With that said, here are 8 of the most crucial warning signs you shouldn’t ignore:
While perfectionism in and of itself isn’t a diagnostic criterion for anxiety, it’s another thing entirely when your rigid demands for yourself start to border on obsessive behaviour. Do you feel driven to always be the very best at everything you do? Or to do everything perfectly all the time, even on your first few tries? Do you feel like a failure whenever you fall short of your unrealistically high expectations? Thinking you need to be perfect at everything just to avoid the judgment of others could be a serious sign that you are already struggling with anxiety and maybe coping with it in an unhealthy way.
Do you often judge yourself much more harshly than you do with others? Do you struggle with strong feelings of unwarranted guilt, shame, and inferiority? Anxiety can often make it hard for us to feel good about ourselves; it takes every little thing we’ve ever disliked about ourselves or felt insecure about and magnifies it back to us ten times worse. And once we start to believe in all the self-criticism our anxiety feeds us with, it traps us in a vicious cycle of negative self-talk and self-defeating behaviors that make us feel like we’ll never be good enough for anyone, especially not ourselves.
3. Feeling Self-Conscious
Have you ever entered a room full of people and suddenly felt like you forgot how to walk like a normal human being? Or talked to someone you liked and felt strangely aware of every little physical sensation (like the way you were standing, or the texture of your hands, or the sound of your own voice)? While these are just a few of the many examples of what it’s like to feel overly self-conscious, there’s only ever one reason behind it all: you feel self-conscious because you feel like everyone is secretly judging you. You feel anxious and on edge, because you’re worried about the way you look, talk, act, and how you come across to other people.
4. Constant Restlessness
Next is constant restlessness. When most of us start to feel anxious, we often feel the need to keep ourselves busy doing things that distract us from our emotional turmoil. So if you’re one of those people who just can’t seem to sit still or relax when there’s nothing left to do, this may be the reason why. Living with anxiety can feel a lot like having a busy mind, but most of the time, you don’t even have a lot to show for it. You occupy yourself with lots of tasks but never get any important work done.
5. Catastrophic Thoughts
A term coined by renowned psychotherapist Aaron Beck, “catastrophizing” or “catastrophic thinking” is a cognitive distortion that happens when we overthink things and make them out to be much worse than they really are. Simply put, if you’re a pessimist who’s always quick to jump to conclusions and find the downside to every situation, then you’re guilty of catastrophizing. And if this is something you do a lot, then it could be a very serious sign that you might be dealing with a lot of anxiety right now.
6. Irritability/Emotional Volatility
Do you often find yourself getting upset or stressing out about even the tiniest of inconveniences? Do you have a temper that’s quick to flare up the moment something doesn’t go the way you want it? Though we can all be guilty of letting our emotions get the better of us from time to time, it’s certainly worth noting that this kind of irritability and emotional volatility could be a sign of pent-up, unrecognized anxiety. Studies show that frequent mood swings, temper tantrums, and difficulty controlling your emotions are all to be expected when you’re feeling overly anxious (insert study).
7. Extreme Indecisiveness
Another little-known symptom of anxiety you may not be aware of is difficulty making decisions. Indeed, extreme indecisiveness and being unable to make up your own mind can be seen as a manifestation of hidden anxiety, especially if you feel like whatever choice you make, you’ll always end up regretting it anyway. People who are anxious and indecisive have a strong fear of failure and a deep-rooted distrust of themselves, which leads them to overthink every little choice they make. They need to think long and hard about every decision because they’re always so anxious about making the wrong one.
8. Unexplained Physical Symptoms
Last but most certainly not least on our list is the experience of unexplained physical symptoms. Sometimes, your anxiety can be so deeply repressed that your mind has no choice but to manifest it into something physical. This is because feelings of anxiety trick the brain into believing that we are being threatened, and it responds by putting us on high-alert for any signs of trouble. The most commonly associated symptoms include: an erratic heartbeat, chest palpitations, muscle tension, chronic pain, shaky hands, profuse sweating, nausea, and an upset stomach (American Psychology Association, 2013).
So, do you relate to any of the signs we’ve pointed out here? Do you think you might already be suffering from anxiety without even realizing it? Because many of us remain ignorant to the nature, causes, and treatment of anxiety and other mental illnesses, we find ourselves amidst a mental health crisis. Making an effort to know more about anxiety can make a positive difference in the lives of those suffering from it and perhaps even help you overcome it if you struggle with it yourself.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. Washington, DC, USA; APA Publishing.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2017). What Are Anxiety Disorders? Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/anxiety-disorders.shtml
- National Alliance Against Mental Illness (2018). Mental Health by The Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers