Life is stressful at times. Navigating important relationships can be complicated and confusing, wondering how we’ll pay our bills can keep us awake at night, and worrying about whether or not our new coworkers will accept us can jumpstart our hearts. But not all stress is the same, nor is it all bad. So, how can we tell the difference and, as importantly, when do we know it’s time to seek help?
Anxiety is the body’s normal reaction to perceived danger. But unlike the fear we experience when we plant our foot down on a hiking trail and notice a coiled snake taking aim at our ankle, anxiety is episodic and enduring. If we move away stealthily enough from the snake, by the time we’re back in our car we’ll probably take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and make it a point to be more mindful of uninvited company on our next jaunt. But anxiety is different. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, “People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days, for about at least six months…”
When clinical anxiety settles in, the simple thought of lacing up for a trek through the trails can cause your palms to sweat, your stomach to churn, and your mind to scurry like a mouse trapped in a maze. Likewise, if the company you work for is trimming staff, then worrying that you might get laid off can prompt you to craft an actionable plan in the event it happens. In this case, a bit of anxiety is a good thing, because it motivates you to seek other sources of income.
6 Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Below are six symptoms of anxiety to be aware of. If you experience them on most days for up to six months at a time, you should consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
- Sense of Restlessness
In children and teens, restlessness is a common symptom of anxiety, but it’s definitely a sign in adults as well. If often manifests as an uncontrollable impulse to move, as in bouncing one’s leg up and down, pacing back and forth, or fidgeting with a pen.
- Inability To Focus
While in the grips of anxiety, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to simply concentrate. When reading a book, you’ll notice you’ve gone two or three pages and remember nothing of it. Or you’ll head to the fridge for a snack and by time you’re back on the couch you’ll realize you wiped grime from the countertop but are still emptyhanded and hungry.
- Interrupted Sleep
If you lay in bed at night staring at the clock as it gets closer to sounding the morning alarm, yet your mind is spinning like a hamster wheel, there’s a good chance you’re overly stressed about something. Especially if it happens most nights of the week. Try cutting off caffeine earlier in the day and shutting down the computer thirty minutes before slipping under the covers. If this doesn’t help, it’s probably a bigger issue than a naturally active mind.
- Muscle Tension
Having tight muscles the day after a workout in the gym is to be expected, but feeling like your neck is as taut as a banjo string when you haven’t hit the weights in months is a different story. In the first instance, you’ve actually torn your muscles and they’re healing, which makes them bigger and stronger. The second scenario, though, is likely the result of excessive worrying.
- Feeling Lightheaded
We’ve all experienced a headrush from standing up too fast. This happens because gravity yanks our blood toward our legs, which means some of that blood leaves our brain to plant itself in our thighs. This uncomfortable sensation usually lasts for a half-minute or so, and then our blood redistributes evenly and the world is steady again. But when you undergo dizzy spells just sitting at your desk or brushing your teeth in the morning, it could point to something more severe.
- Upset Stomach
If your stomach is bubbling like a cauldron of tar, but you ate greasy French fries and a jalapeno burger for lunch, there’s probably a connection. Take a couple of antacids and settle for a salad with crackers tomorrow. However, if your diet is somewhat tame, your stomach is a mess anyway, and this is a persistent condition, it’s likely your body’s natural reaction to what your mind is obsessing over as a threat.
It’s Time to Seek Professional Help for Your Anxiety Disorder
As mentioned earlier, not all stress is bad. In fact, according to WebMD, experiencing short-term bouts of anxiety is totally normal. It can motivate you to try harder in school, buckle down on your job, or practice your talking points so you’ll nail that public presentation. But when feelings of anxiety become the norm and recur regularly over a period of months, they can have a negative impact on your overall health and greatly diminish your quality of life. This is when it’s time to seek professional help.
The good news is, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. The first step is identifying the symptoms. The second step is admitting you have a problem that you’re unable to fix on your own. The third step – find a mental health professional who is a good match for you and give them a call. This will set you firmly on the path of reclaiming your life. Go ahead. You deserve it.