To date, this is the most frequent question that I’m asked. Simple, yet complicated to the point of anxiety. (Ironic).
In the last three years, the term ‘anxiety’ has exploded, largely thanks to the media. “Everyone seems to have it!” Or so I overhear a lady moan on the tram. From A-list celebrities to ‘that bloke on Love Island.’
Language isn’t really my bag, I rarely get riled by it, but even I have to admit that the overuse of the ‘A’ word is starting to cause problems.
Anxiety is not a catch-all term for stress. It’s a disorder, one that arises when the afflicted cannot separate rational thoughts/worries from irrational ones. However, to feel ‘anxious’ IS perfectly normal when dealing with a stressful situation (and this is how it gets complicated).
Mental health as a whole exists as a HUGE spectrum, with different levels of symptoms and emotional severity. For example, a person can feel anxious and not have anxiety, or feel depressed but not have depression. Core emotions such as; fear, sadness, and anger are universal to everyone. (Which the exception of psychopaths).
So how do you know if your worrying has become a problem?
Most common symptoms
- Replay addiction – replaying past events and conversations, whether they were five minutes ago, or five years ago and analysing them to an obsessive level.
We all do this to an extent, e.g. thinking about that arsehole who tried to cut in front of you during rush hour… and giving them a whole imaginary backstory that makes you superior and them a complete d**K!
When I was at the height of my social anxiety, I spent more time replaying the past than I did in reality. I’d obsessively analyse conversations with certain colleagues, trying to determine what they thought of me, or what I could’ve done better. This was not only unhealthy but exhausting.
- Ruminating thoughts – I f**king hate this word btw… amplified over the last nine months to replace intrusive, which is also ridiculous. All thoughts are intrusive by nature, good or bad!
So instead, I like to say sh** thoughts. If you’re having sh** thoughts (which you can clearly identify by their negative tone) on loop, that you can’t seem to shake. E.g. You’re pathetic – everyone hates you – you’re never going to achieve anything – X person thinks you’re an idiot. What makes sh** thoughts a symptom is their irrational basis. Sweeping generalisations based on zero proof.
- Physical symptoms – Such as; heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, tremors or spasms, excessive sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, dry mouth, difficulty sleeping. Physical symptoms can be an indicator of an internal issue that isn’t being addressed. They are still to this date the absolute BANE of my life when I’m trying to ‘ignore’ my anxiety! Your brain has a way of protesting. Listen to it.
- Alert mode – Feeling on edge constantly, as though something awful is going to happen. This can also make you irritable and erratic.
- Extended discomfort – Periods of anxiety can come and go depending on external stressors. For example, if your mother in law is staying, or you have a deadline at work. Feeling anxious during such periods is normal, (sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t put two and two together). It’s if the anxious thoughts are presented even when things are calm. Observe for at least twenty eight days.
Less common symptoms
- Discomfort with uncertainty – do you prefer ANY outcome to that of dealing with the uncertainty of ‘what if?’ For example, I was very reactive in situations and preferred any outcome just so long as the situation was resolved, even when waiting would’ve been to my advantage. E.g. Deciding to apologise in order to end conflict even if it wasn’t my fault, or leaving a job interview minutes before it started because I couldn’t bear the thought that I might look foolish.
For a person with anxiety, uncertainly is Hell as it gives the subconscious free reign to imagine the worst possible outcome. Even a negative outcome is preferable to the unknown. This can lead to said person making quick-fire, bad decisions.
- Avoidance – I made every excuse in the book NOT to attend social events when my anxiety was high. I often convinced myself that if I was feeling this anxious now, then I was right to avoid the event. My instincts were protecting me. WRONG. It’s another (well hidden) anxiety symptom.
Brief sidenote on roadblocks
Roadblocks = something or someone that stops you from seeking help.
- Next week mentality – When X project is finished I’ll feel better – I just have to get through X – Next week I’ll slow down. Unfortunately, next week never comes and if you’re like me, you end up on the floor sobbing, as the paramedic tries to comfort you.
If you were pissing blood, you wouldn’t put off a trip to the doctors. Treat your brain with the same respect.
- Unhelpful external ‘advice’ – Everyone feels nervous when speaking in public Claire, is something I’ve heard frequently over the years. Others include; They’re not looking at you, they’re too focused on their own lives – Everybody finds X hard, you’re not special.
Teachers, in particular, are guilty of this and parents too. (No judgment, I understand that it comes from a desire to comfort). Unfortunately, what they’re unknowingly communicating to the person with anxiety is; Everyone else can cope with how you’re feeling – YOU’RE the problem – You’re the weak one.
The equivalent would be to tell a person with a broken ankle that everyone finds jogging challenging.
If you experience this reaction when confiding in another, don’t be disheartened. If you’re struggling to cope then you have every right to see your GP.
Anxiety is crafty and can creep up on you over time. It’s important to recognise when symptoms start to affect your daily life and take positive action.