Anxiety is a pernicious condition, and we’re all affected by it to some degree. There’s a big difference between having one-off anxieties and suffering from an anxiety disorder, though. Suffering from an anxiety disorder implies pervasive and continuous anxiety that isn’t spawned by any single cause but rather invents new causes to fuel its own fire.
Thankfully, there’s hope for those who suffer from anxiety, but you need to identify the problem first. We’ve compiled a list of unique warning signs of anxiety that you might not recognize on your own. While you’re reading, be mindful of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you’ve had recently.
1. Tense muscles
We’ve all heard it: “relax, you’re too tense”. As unhelpful as this exhortation may be, it’s completely grounded in reality. Anxiety causes a variety of systemic effects on your body, with muscle tension being one of the most easily noticeable. Muscle tension builds to greater intensity with your anxiety and causes anxiety on its own.
Much like other anxiety symptoms, it can be difficult to recognize when your muscles are more tense than usual. The upshot is that reducing muscle tension with a massage or hot shower will reduce your anxiety, though it may be a temporary reprieve.
The cartoony stereotype of an anxious person sweating bullets is based in truth: being acutely anxious makes you sweat much more than usual. The anxious sweating occurs due to your body’s fight or flight response activating in reply to a perceived threat. Being chronically anxious means that innocuous stimuli are sometimes incorrectly perceived by your mind and body as threats.
During the fight or flight response, your body responds to the magnitude of your emotional arousal by ramping up your heartbeat, internal temperature, and stress hormones. The incorrect triggering of the fight or flight response is a common theme in anxiety. Unfortunately, there’s not much that you can do to reduce sweat production aside from calming down.
3. Being Easily Startled
Being on edge is a commonly understood attribute of having anxiety, but what does “on edge” really mean? Anxiety alters our responses to our environment in favor of reactions which are fearful and avoidant of potential danger. This means that when we’re suffering from anxiety, innocuous stimuli like a car door slamming outside may startle us excessively and cause a quick reaction that is disproportionate to the reality of what occurred.
The aftermath of being startled is the fight or flight response that causes us to have tense muscles and sweat. People with anxiety may also have excessive fears about being startled because they remember previous incidents in which they overreacted. Reducing a person’s baseline level of arousal is the only way to prevent them from being perennially easily startled.
Irritability goes hand in hand with anxiety. There are a number of explanations for why anxiety causes irritability, but the neuropsychiatric approach explains the issue best. When we’re anxious, our body has higher concentrations of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine than usual. Norepinephrine is responsible for regulating our level of arousal, and is linked to the “on edge” symptomology of anxiety. Higher mental arousal means that our response times are faster, and that there’s less inhibition and pre-filtering of our responses.
Combine being on edge with faster response times and you’re ready to make a snappy remark that others will interpret as irritation. The symptom complex of tense muscles, sweating, and high arousal goes hand in hand with irritability, making it a dead ringer for identifying anxiety.
Anxiety promotes the solitary cocooning of an individual. Though isolation is typically considered in the context of social anxiety, it’s actually representative of many different types of anxiety. As we struggle with our internal experience and our reactions to the uncontrollable world outside of us, the desire to avoid external stimuli which may provoke anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Many people with anxiety cloister themselves away in their homes or in other controlled environments to reduce the anxiety that they feel. Unfortunately, this often causes other problems, as isolation precludes having much social contact, which is necessary for good mental health. Like all fights, you have a better chance of winning against anxiety when you bring your friends.
Anxiety and depression go hand in hand. The chronic burning of anxiety leads to the withdrawn lethargy of depression, and it’s unlikely to have one without the other. The ruminating commiseration of depression is the opposite side of the coin from the high-strung catastrophizing of anxiety.
If you can identify a friend in a slump, there’s a good chance that they’re anxious, too. It’s unclear exactly why the pathologies are so closely linked, but that doesn’t prevent effective treatment. The good news is that solving anxiety may ease the symptoms of depression and vice versa.
This list isn’t a substitute for a psychiatric evaluation, but it might clue you into your suffering or the suffering of someone you love. If you identify with the signs we’ve described, don’t worry. Anxiety is treatable via a variety of therapy styles, lifestyle changes, and psychopharmacological interventions.
As always, a good adjunct to treatment is to get in some cardiovascular exercise, socialize with people who care about you and get a good night’s sleep. Talk to a mental health professional, and you’ll be on your way to feeling calmer.