When I was officially diagnosed with having anxiety back in 2009, I suddenly felt a rush of relief — it sounds weird, and while nobody is hoping for a diagnosis that falls into the mental illness category, it was finally a way to explain the way I was feeling on an everyday basis. Looking back, there were plenty of signs of anxiety throughout my entire life, but I never really had the courage to look any further, figuring that "hey, panic attacks are normal. Everyone goes through them, and I need to just be a stronger person when one happens to me in the future." But since you can't really predict when anxiety will be super troubling, instead I spent many years feeling pretty weak.
Nobody else in my family had a diagnosis — heck, nobody else in my family seemed to even question whether or not I might have the disorder. That's probably because most of the time, I was suffering in silence. I didn't want to be a burden, since, again, I was under the false impression that everyone must feel this way. Anxiety is, without a doubt, a silent disorder. There can definitely be telltale signs when someone is in the midst of an attack, but in general, nobody can predict whether or not you have it. You don't look any different from everyone else, but on the inside, you're letting your nerves and insecurities take the wheel.
I feel like my generation is finally starting to blow the cover off of both anxiety and depression, making them feel way less shameful for those who are suffering. For the first time, people are talking about it openly, and discussing their symptoms in a way that lets the closet-sufferers feel much less alone. People who have anxiety and depression aren't damaged — they just internally process things a little differently. There should be zero shame in getting help for either of them, and trust me, you'll be happy when you do.
Keep in mind, I'm not a doctor. I'm just someone who has done a little research on the topic, and can easily relate. That said, if you think your anxiety might be a little more than a normal amount, here are a few signs you should look out for.
1. You often have feelings of dread
You just can't be shiny and happy today. Or, most days. When you've got anxiety, you just feel as if the worst thing is about to happen. This kind of dread can disrupt your life pretty badly. It's not a phobia, but more of a generalized feeling of being completely uneasy. If you have something good coming up (like, a concert) you can't stop focusing on why you should just stay at home (since there'll be traffic getting there, and it's not in the safest neighborhood, and maybe you'll get in a car accident on the way there). Feeling completely joyous is just really, really tough.
2. You constantly feel tense
Even if you treat yourself to a massage, the benefits don't last very long. Tension is a big sign of anxiety, and always feeling achy and slightly unwell is all just a lovely side effect. You can work really hard on feeling relaxed through a bunch of different methods (like taking a bath, meditating, or listening to some calming tunes), but it's just way harder for you to sit back and enjoy the moment.
3. You feel like you're always in danger
You feel like danger is present, and you don't know why. You just always feel stressed and nervous, like something bad is about to happen. If you watch something horrifying on the news, it sticks with you for quite some time, and you start incorporating the story in your everyday life. You become a little suspicious of everyone around you, and the aforementioned tension builds up. It's really hard to tell yourself that in general, everything will be OK.
If you've taken high school psychology, you've probably heard of "fight or flight." When you have anxiety, you understand exactly what this is, and how it feels. Even if you're not faced with a real danger, your body fails to recognize that, and either goes into defense mode, or fleeing mode. It's not a fun feeling, and makes you feel pretty powerless when you re-evaluate the situation later.
4. You have insomnia
If you have anxiety, it may be hard to shut your brain down. Yes, this is common for many people — sleep problems, and a racing mind, can be something as easy as "I drank way too much caffeine at night." The difference is, it happens a lot, and pretty soon, you begin fearing these sleepless nights. According to the National Sleep Foundation, anxiety is very much "associated with onset insomnia or maintenance insomnia. In either case, the quiet and inactivity of night often brings on stressful thoughts or even fears that keep a person awake." It's awful, believe me.
5. You experience shortness of breath
A lot of people, in the midst of an anxiety attack, feel like they're having a heart attack. You feel lightheaded, your heart is beating like crazy, and you feel unable to breathe normally. You become super aware of how poorly you're breathing, and feel like it's not as effortless as it should be. "This shortness of breath symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel a shortness of breath once and a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time," anxietycentre.com states.
6. You are unwilling to leave the house
Social anxiety is one of the many different types of anxiety that you can face, but it's definitely real. It's called agoraphobia, and can definitely make life hard to live. The BetterHealth channel notes that it normally starts out as a small anxiety over a certain event or place — like, if you fear the grocery store, since standing in lines can make you feel really uneasy. But it can morph into so much more, and you begin to convince yourself that your home is the only safe space around. Sufferers can be nervous about embarrassing themselves in front of others, having a massive panic attack in public, or just feeling particularly unsafe and targeted at certain trigger locations. So if you're feeling a bit of dread over something like going out to lunch, you shouldn't dismiss this feeling, and try to seek treatment before it totally takes over your life.
7. You feel a loss of control
This is one of the scariest things to an anxiety sufferer. The world is spinning, you feel like you're not in control of your own life, and there's nothing you can do but sit around and fear the future. A lot of people have this fear, which Psychology Today claims is like "a formula for a roller coaster ride that never ends" — it's a reasonable fear, and something we all face while we're growing up. You feel like you're slowly fading in the background, and the world is just operating without you, or your individual input. Getting out of this bubble seems a lot harder if you think you have an anxiety disorder.
8. You experience trembling
Speaking of loss of control, let's talk about trembling. Trembling is never pleasant, and pretty much tells the world, "Hey, I'm on unsturdy ground right now!" Even worse, it doesn't happen when you know you're about to face an anxious moment — it often happens before, and sometime after. Sometimes it happens for no reason, which makes you think that your body knows something that your mind doesn't. Anxietycentre.com says that this kind of trembling is based on the amount of stress you're putting your body through. It makes sense — your body is one big machine, and if one part of it is being overworked, it'll mess up the rest of the works.
If this sounds like you, know that there are multiple types of treatment out there to help fight this, and make you feel complete again. Anxiety support groups are all over the place — after all, an estimated 18.1 percent of people in the United States are affected by some type of anxiety-related disorder.
There's nothing shameful about going to the doctor and getting treatment, even though the act of telling yourself that you can't handle it alone is pretty difficult. But truthfully, I was kicking myself for not getting help sooner. Nobody will fault you for trying to be the very best version of you that you can be.
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