Samantha is a 27-year-old female. She has a successful career and has worked very hard to get where she is today. Ever since college, she has noticed that she often feels stressed and worried about a variety of things. They might be worries related to work, school (when she was attending), relationships, or things she wants to accomplish.There are seasons that are worse than others, but overall, it has been an ongoing issue in Samantha’s life. Some weeks she has horrible insomnia, where she cannot seem to shut her mind off. Other weeks she sleeps throughout the night, but still wakes up feeling unrested and groggy.
Her shoulders almost always feel tense, and more times than not she finds herself carrying a “knot” in her stomach. She has trouble relaxing and feels like she always needs to be doing something. Sitting still and being present is a huge challenge for her, which she has found affects her social life.
There are days where the worry and stress feel so out of control that Samantha will end her day with a glass or two of wine, to take the edge off. A lot of her worries are surrounded by a need to be perfect and prove herself to be worthy.
Lately, she has noticed that it has been difficult to concentrate at work. Her mind keeps going blank and she feels mentally exhausted. This begins to scare Samantha, as she feels it is affecting her work performance. She starts to take it out on friends and loved ones, by snapping at them or saying hurtful things in the moment (that she later feels bad about). Samantha is beginning to feel out of control, and she does not know how to fix it.
Does Samantha’s story resonate with you at all? Do you find yourself experiencing some (or all) of the same things that she has been going through? If so, then you are likely dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety can be a struggle to pinpoint, especially if you do not know what the symptoms are. Once you are able to put words to what you are experiencing, then you can begin to find ways to cope with it. If you are not very familiar with anxiety, it is characterized by feelings of worry, uneasiness, and nervousness.
It is common for these feelings to come up when something significant happens in your life, especially if there is uncertainty surrounding it. However, for some people, these feelings become chronic and ongoing. This can happen to the point that they are affecting some, or even all, areas of your life. It is important to remember that anxiety is very normal; many people have experienced it at some point in their lifetime.
The symptoms can be both physical and mental, and you may experience all or just a combination of them. These symptoms also might change and vary, depending on the day, week, month, or year. They can feel exhausting and immobilizing at times. They may increase or decrease depending on what is happening in your life, at any given time.
It is vital to keep in mind that there is hope that you will one day combat these feelings. There are many ways to treat anxiety, many of which can be done at home. But first, it is necessary to know what the symptoms are.
Recognizing Anxiety Symptoms
The following describes some anxiety symptoms and how to recognize them:
Do you find yourself worrying all the time? Maybe you worry about paying your bills, if you said the right thing in your work meeting last week, if you’ll be able to find your new dentist’s office, or even about whether or not your spouse will remember to pick up the dry cleaning.
You might worry about small things or big things, and everything in between. There might be a lot of “what if” thinking. What if this happens, what if that happens. What if I get a flat tire and am late to my meeting? What if my friend gets mad that I do not feel up to meeting for coffee? The anticipation of something you have to do, such as a presentation, can be miserable to endure.
It is common to replay things over and over in your head, like interactions that you had with others, and overanalyze or ruminate on what happened. The worry might revolve around others’ opinions of you, such as your life choices, how you dress, or even little things, like what you ordered for lunch. You might worry about failing and letting down the people you care about. There could be pressure to be perfect and never make mistakes, which drives these worries to continue.
When excessive worry is present, it is common to get caught in a cycle of worry. For example, let’s pretend you have a solo in choir class. You might worry that your voice is going to crack, and that is all you can think about leading up to your turn to practice in front of the class.
Because you have told yourself over and over that your voice will probably crack, it does indeed end up cracking. The worry and anxiety get even more heightened because your worst fear came true, and you begin to believe it is always going to crack now.
So when you go to practice again, you feel even more nervous, continue to engage in negative self talk, and then your voice cracks again. You get caught in this continuous cycle because the anxiety is the driving force. Being stuck in a constant cycle can feel very defeating.
Difficulty Controlling the Worry
It can be difficult to control the worry that you experience, especially if they are happening all of the time. It could get to a point that worrying feels so normal for you, that you cannot remember a time that you were free from worry. You also may feel like your thoughts are out of your control and that you have little power over them.
This makes it not only hard to enjoy life and relax, but also to feel empowered and confident in your decision making. In an attempt to feel some sort of control and experience short term relief, it is not uncommon to turn to unhealthy ways of coping with the worry, such as drugs or alcohol. Trying and failing to control the worry can feel both powerless and hopeless.
RestlessnessThe worry and anxiety might cause feelings of restlessness. It is hard to live in the moment if you are constantly anticipating something bad to happen. You might feel uneasy, on edge, or unable to sit still. It might feel as if you are bracing yourself for the next bad thing to happen. It is common to feel like it is difficult to relax, have fun, be calm, or be present. Restlessness is a result of the fight or flight response and is activated by a surge of adrenaline.
In the case of anxiety, the fight or flight response activates when you are not actually in any danger. Instead, it is responding to high levels of stress over time and stays activated, even during monotonous times. Since there is no actual danger and you have nothing to protect yourself from, the adrenaline has nowhere to go and therefore causes these uncomfortable feelings of restlessness.
Worrying all the time is exhausting. It can take a toll on you both mentally and physically. Things that you usually can do with ease, might begin to wear you out faster. Your threshold for activity or tasks may begin to decrease. You might find yourself sleeping more, but no matter how much extra sleep you get, you still feel fatigued.
The physical and mental exhaustion may begin to affect your work and school performance, or impact relationships. You might find yourself skipping class, calling in sick, or bailing on plans with friends more and more often. This symptom is many times, tied to the symptom of restlessness. The more restless you feel, the more fatigued you become as a result.
It can be very hard to focus on what is going on around you when your mind is consumed with worry, or you are physically feeling anxious. You might feel as if your mind is “going blank.” This can be especially difficult in social, work, or school settings. If you are trying to listen and engage with those around you, it is challenging when you feel unable to focus on what is being said.
This is the same for being at work or in class. Finishing tasks takes extra effort and time, due to the lack of concentration. You might find yourself getting behind on things you need to get done, and the motivation to work on them lessening.
When struggling with anxiety, it is normal to have increased feelings of irritability. It is common to experience agitation, frustration, or to get upset easily. You might encounter a higher level of impatience, snapping at others, feeling extra annoyed (at even very small things), and arguing more with those around you.
Feeling irritable can impact relationships, and cause hurt feelings. There may be a cycle of guilt, where you are irritable toward someone, and then feel guilty, and then are irritable again, and feel more guilty, and the cycle continues on and on. There might be days where the irritability is more internal, and days where it is more external.
Muscle tensionAnxiety can cause muscles to feel more tense and tight, especially in the neck and shoulders. This can be quite uncomfortable, and may even cause stress headaches. You might feel large knots in your back, that cause pain, stiffness, or pressure. Tension may not only live in the back, shoulders, and neck; other parts of your body may be affected too. Your body may feel like a ball of stress, that needs to be stretched out and massaged.
It is normal to experience disrupted sleep when battling with anxiety. This can include trouble falling asleep, waking up throughout the night, increased nightmares, or just not feeling rested after a full night of sleep. You might lay there for hours, with different thoughts racing through your mind – such as to do lists or what your day looks like tomorrow.
It is common to feel anxiety around how much sleep you are getting – “If I fall asleep now, I will get 6 hours of sleep…if I fall asleep now, I will get 5 hours of sleep…” The longer you lay there awake thinking about it, the more anxiety you might feel.
Anxiety symptoms can cause significant distress in functioning. It can impact all realms of your life, such as work, school, and relationships (family, romantic, friendships, coworkers, etc). It is important to make sure that these symptoms cannot be better explained by a substance or another medical condition or disorder – always consult your physician if you are unsure. Ruling out other causes out is never a bad idea.
Let us return back to Samantha’s story. She is no longer at a loss of what to do. Instead, she decides to stop the suffering and to seek help. She makes an appointment with a therapist, who is trained to work with those struggling to overcome anxiety.
Her therapist helps her to work through these challenges, and to find ways to manage the anxiety in healthy and positive ways. Samantha begins to feel some relief, and like she finally has control over her life again. The anxiety tries to creep back in from time to time, however, now she knows what exactly it is that is happening and how to cope with it.
Although anxiety can feel intensely debilitating at times, the good news is that it is very treatable. There are many things that are proven to help relieve anxiety symptoms, such as meditation, exercise, deep breathing, visualization, or muscle relaxation.
Talking with a therapist can be helpful in identifying the symptoms, processing the worry, and finding useful tools to cope with the anxiety. Remember that anxiety does not define who you are. Just like with Samantha, there is hope that things will get better, and asking for help is always okay.
Coping with Anxiety and Restlessness. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2019, from https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/symptoms/constant-restlessness
Glasofer, D. R. (n.d.). Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms and Diagnosis. Retrieved April 16, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/dsm-5-criteria-for- generalized-anxiety-disorder-1393147
“Walk”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stress”, Courtesy of Christian Erfurt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “I always wake before her”, Courtesy of Gregory Pappas, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victory”, Courtesy of Miguel Bruna, Unsplash.com, CC0 License