Today, many people are highly anxious and stressed out. I know all about it. Not only do I know and understand anxious experience from the inside out, but as a marriage and family therapist specializing in overwhelming anxiety and trauma, I work with Anxious Folk in my Orange County private practice every day. People are suffering from anxiety and the impact it has on their lives and relationships is tremendous. It’s an epidemic.
How do you know when anxiety is
getting the upper hand?
Here are a couple of signs you may be suffering from anxiety and could benefit from some solid self-help and professional support.
2. Trouble sleeping. Insomnia is a problem for lots of people and it can be a BIG problem for those with anxiety. If you’re having trouble relaxing and going to sleep, issues with turning your mind off, turning down the thought-noise so you can drift off, or you’re awakening in the middle of the night with lots of worrisome thoughts or panic, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with the symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety is a great sleep disruptor. The thing is, Anxious Folk are already exhausted by the anxious process—so de-energizing! To lose sleep on top of it is a really double whammy. Many of the anxious people I work with and coach report they are still problem solving in their sleep. It’s no wonder they’re waking up exhausted.
3. Disturbing physical symptoms or sensations. Tight chest, heart palpitations, a sense of breathlessness? Dizziness, blurred vision, upset stomach? Heartburn or butterflies in your tummy? These are some, but not all, the ways anxiety can manifest in your body. Heightened anxiety can also contribute to body aches, tension headaches, migraines, muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia, and IBS. In fact, studies suggest as much as 80% of ER visits are actually related to anxiety. Anxiety is an expensive issue to be dealing with on lots of different levels.
4. Catastrophic, “what if?” and “worst case scenario” thinking. These are the hallmarks of anxious thought. It’s not like you can just turn anxious thinking off. Using your willpower or just deciding not to think certain thoughts is a lot easier said than done. For one thing, pointing your willpower at anxious thoughts will generally result in increasing your sense of anxiety overall. Why? An anxious mind is typically a very bright mind, a problem-solving mind. Anxious Folk are used to solving problems. Theirs and everyone else’s. Point that superior problem-solving mind at anxious thoughts, fail to resolve the issue, and you’re anxiety will likely spike even more. It’s just the nature of the beast. There are few things the anxious mind likes less than not being in control of the situation. Your anxious mind cannot control anxiety. You can’t outrun it. You can’t out think it. What you can do is unlearn the anxious habit one step at a time.
5. Fears and Phobias. Do you find your life becoming more and more limited by fear and anxiety? When your fear of failure, driving, social situations, dying, heights, spaces, spiders, or of trying something new is getting in your way and limiting the way you are living your life, then anxiety has become an issue you need to address. Not every anxious person is going to develop phobias (or specific rather than general fears), but every phobic person is experiencing high levels of anxiety, some of which are expressing as overwhelming illogical and sometimes debilitating fears and phobias. When your mind has been seized by phobic fears, it’s time to take action.
6. The need for control. All the time. This aspect of your anxious self may be harder to identify than any of the other symptoms and yet, is very problematic, particularly in the way it impacts your relationships. Anxious Folk like to manage things. A lot. Specifically, us anxious types like to manage our loved ones. We like to make sure everything is okay, make sure everyone is okay, make sure everyone is okay with everyone else, manage others' time, and manage our shared environment. When you find yourself always worrying about “helping” everyone to get along, when you can’t let anyone else take care of stuff, when the house always has to be kept a certain way (i.e. your way), there’s a good chance you’re suffering from anxiety. When you get the impression you “just have to say something!” because it’s almost physically intolerable not to speak or act, your anxious self is out for a romp. We Anxious Folk are sometimes considered pushy, controlling, busybodies when all we want to do is make ourselves comfortable by keeping everyone and everything around us as calm and smooth as possible. It’s a big job!
7. You can’t relax. A lot of Anxious Folk have a hard time chilling the hell out and relaxing. It can seem like a foreign concept. After all, busyness and competence are highly valued characteristics for most of us anxious types. Not only that, but we may never have learned to relax to begin with. Or to play. Anxious Folk have been hard at work making sure the world is spinning on its axis and everything is going the way it should for a very long time. Some of us took this Big Job on at two or three years of age. We’re good at it. What we’re not always so great at is having fun, letting our hair down, or being child-like and playful in all the ways that could heal us most.