This Is What Anxiety Can Feel Like
I get people coming to me all the time with complaints about things happening in their lives, mood, or behavior patterns that frustrate them and they don’t completely understand. Many times, these problems are secondary symptoms of an underlying anxiety disorder.
I wanted to take some time today to talk about Anxiety in general, and some of the less obvious symptoms that plague more and more people every day.
Now, most people are familiar with the “fight or flight” response, or the “fight, flight, freeze” response. This is not what this article will be about, but it is prudent to briefly go over this in case there is any misunderstanding.
Essentially, our brains are programmed for the amygdala to take over whenever a dangerous situation is detected. The amygdala is part of the limbic system and responsible for overseeing responses to pain or pleasure. It is this part of the brain that is responsible for the biological changes that happen when someone encounters a perceived danger, or when someone has a triggered PTSD, Anxiety, or phobic response. It’s theorized that the amygdala is responsible for the majority of symptoms of these types of disorders.
With that being said, the amygdala produces different symptoms for most people, and these symptoms also greatly differ when it comes to acute Anxiety and chronic Anxiety, and even Chronic Stress.
While it’s great to know about the major acute symptoms like increased heart rate, labored breathing, sweating, tightness in your chest, sense of peril or doom, and others that come on in a Panic Attack or other acute Anxiety episode, I want to explore the chronic side of low-level anxiety symptoms that build over time.
People who exhibit these types of symptoms are typically treated for “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” While this diagnosis can include more acute panic attack symptoms, it is not a requirement of the diagnosis. This is a situation where most people who have Panic Attacks have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but not everyone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder experiences Panic Attacks
So, what does Generalized Anxiety Disorder feel like for someone who does not experience Panic Attacks?
Well, here’s an excerpt from my personal journal where I outline some more common symptoms I’ve experienced myself.
“A personal account of how anxiety manifests in my life:
Not worry, but a quiet, unwanted stillness.
Like something is gripping tightly to my metaphorical spine, not allowing me to move, to act, to escape.
A sense that there is a veil around the true world outside, but you’re stuck in an invisible cage, not able to interact or be a part of that freedom or world outside while being completely aware of it.
I’m sitting at my desk, an hour into the workday, slowly realizing that I’ve just been sitting there. Not doing anything in particular, just sitting, aware of my responsibilities, having the desire to fulfill those responsibilities, yet taking no action, and not completely understanding why.”
Now this is only one perspective, and over the years I’ve treated people with a variety of symptoms related to anxiety and chronic stress (which can contribute to an Anxiety disorder).
Here are some other experiences that I’ve heard over the years that could point toward an Anxiety Disorder:
Losing track of time
Being easily distracted when faced with day-to-day tasks or responsibilities
A constant fear of failure that impacts starting new things
A sense that tasks are useless or you cannot change your situation
A sense of dread when getting ready for the day
Heightened sense of arousal (getting startled easily)
Becoming more easily agitated
Avoiding tasks or events because of fear of feeling stressed
Loss of appetite, or extreme appetite
Excessive reliance on electronic media as a pick-me-up
Using alcohol or other drugs to mitigate pain or stress
Chronic digestive upset, acid reflux, or “gut issues”
Loss of interest in sex
Using sex as a distraction from life
Constant worry when a significant other is away
Feeling the need to persistently check in on a significant other out of suspicion without evidence that there is something going on
Worry about the safety of yourself or others in times where there is no clear or present danger
Inability to be alone or in a quiet place for any length of time without a distraction
Lack of energy or motivation to accomplish tasks essential to your job or daily life
Preoccupation with checking security of house or safety of others
Fits of rage or other extreme emotions
Feeling of being trapped or powerless in your life
Feeling of inadequacy that impacts your functioning
Not having close relationships
Hobbies or interests feel overwhelming
Now, this is not an exhaustive list by any means, and having a few of these things going on does not necessarily mean that you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. What this is meant to do is inform that Anxiety does not just look like panic attacks, biting nails, irritability, and worry. Sometimes it looks like a relatively normal life from the outside.
There are plenty of people out there that deal with chronic stress on a daily basis, and are able to use effective tools to manage their stress and lessen the impact on their lives. However, there are those that just barely make it through a day. The stress weighs heavy on them, and they feel ill-equipped to manage it. They may find themselves jumping from job to job, not being able to form working relationships with people, or just having problems meeting expectations placed on them.
You don’t have to have severe symptoms of anxiety, with full on panic attacks to receive some benefit from therapy. In fact, most people dealing with chronic stress out there only barely manage it. It does impact lives negatively, and can have a lasting impact on relationships and careers.
If you need some help managing symptoms of anxiety, or find yourself facing chronic stress, it may be a good idea to talk with a therapist. Seeking help from a professional can equip you with the appropriate tools to manage chronic stress, or help you identify changes that could be made in life to help lower stress or ease symptoms of anxiety.
If you’re dealing with chronic stress, or anxiety symptoms, help is available. Please reach out to someone.