Here’s the thing, many many people are trying to live with much higher levels of anxious experience than our nervous systems and bodies were designed for. I know. I specialize in the reduction and healing of anxiety. I work with Anxious Folk every day. Let’s figure out if you could use a little more support with your anxious feelings than you’re getting now.
Here’s what we’re looking for:
1. Repetitive, negative, intrusive thoughts. Worry that just won’t stop. It’s not the way you were designed to live, but you can get stuck in overdrive and have a hard time trying to turn off your head.
2. Sleep disruption. Lots of things can contribute to sleep disruption, including a host of physical issues. Anxious Folk, however, are going to experience more difficulty than most in falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, and waking rested. Is anxiety the culprit? It could be, particularly if you notice you are worried and anxious when you wake up or if anxious rumination is keeping you up in the first place.
3. Care-taking. Lots of folks want to be nice; Anxious Folk often define themselves as “Nice.” What this turns out to mean is you don’t know how to say “no,” even when it is clear it’s in your best interests to do so. You’re constantly over-extended, over-committed, giving at your own expense, volunteering, working unpaid overtime, and having a hard time setting appropriate boundaries in most of your relationships. Sometimes it may feel like you’re helping everyone else and no one is there for you. It’s not uncommon to find Anxious Folk consistently sacrificing their health, well-being, time, and treasure for friends, family, and strangers. If you feel terrible saying “no,” even when it is obvious it should really be okay to do so, there’s a good chance anxiety is a player in your life.
4. Phobias. There are a lot of ways anxiety may show up in your life. For some Anxious Folk it may be irrational fears. Lots of people are afraid of public speaking. I hear again and again that more people are afraid of public speaking than death. Wow. So, I’ll set public speaking aside. It’s too common to be of help here. If your anxious mind has pointed itself towards a fear of heights, spiders, snakes, small spaces, flying, dentists, throwing up (yes, it’s a thing), or a host of other things and situations and you find yourself thinking about your fear, avoiding chances of experiencing it, and organizing your life in such a way as to manage and avoid it, chances are, you’re struggling with a nice dose of anxiety. Specifically, phobias. It’s okay. It’s just what some anxious minds do in order to cope with anxious feelings in the first place.
5. Perfectionism. Anxious Folk want to be perfect, believe they should be perfect, and may punish themselves brutally for any perceived flaw or supposed imperfection. Perfectionism creates misery. Period. And it is one way we will dress up our negative critical interior voice and call it good and helpful. Perfectionism will drive others away from us and disrupt our relationships. It may contribute to unfinished projects, PhD dissertations, and missed deadlines at work, because nothing is ever finished to your standards. Perfectionism is the slave driver face of your anxious experience.
6. Compulsions. Every once in awhile anxiety will show up with compulsive behaviors and a need for patterns, ritualized actions, or rigid orderliness. We’re starting to dance in the Obsessive Compulsive side of the ballroom with this one. Full blown, this can be a miserable thing to deal with. At the same time, lots of Anxious Folk may identify a few mild obsessive traits within themselves, particularly when they are experiencing long-term stressors or significant fatigue. I, myself, can be a “checker” when I’m really tired or stressed. If I find I’m checking several times whether I unplugged the iron, turned the oven off, or locked the door before I left the house, I know I have to up the intensity of my self-care.
7. Social Discomfort. Some Anxious Folk find it extremely difficult to go out and mix with people in public. Every interaction is fraught with room for failure, missteps, and judgments. When this experience is overwhelming enough, people can start to give up on trying and isolate themselves. A lot of energy will be used to over think any interaction. Often, highly self-critical appraisals will be utilized. In fact, being super hard on yourself is a good anxiety indicator in general.
8. Panic. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are debilitating and overwhelming. Full-blown panic attacks literally feel like you’re dying. A panic attack may be accompanied by profuse sweating, shortness of breath, chest pains, and light-headedness. In fact, people land in the ER every day with heart attack symptoms that turn out to be panic. Some studies suggest as much as 83% of ER visits are related to anxiety or panic in one way or the other. Not everyone who experiences anxiety is going to experience panic, but everyone with panic attack episodes is experiencing anxiety, as well.
There are more indicators of anxiety, to be sure, but this is a good list to start with. The thing is, do you really need one more label to apply to yourself? Probably not. It’s a lot less important to label yourself with an anxiety disorder than it is to find a way to lower your experience of stress and anxiety over all and enjoy your life now.
Overwhelming experiences of anxiety and panic, no matter what your particular flavor is, are not indicators of your brokenness. Your anxious experience is not a flaw or a negative personality trait. It’s simply the way the body and the mind respond to specific kinds of stimulation and situations. You’ve learned anxious coping strategies and they can be unlearned, both on the physical and emotional levels. That's very good news and it happens in my office every day, one step at a time.