From fretting about parking downtown to not being able to make a student loan payment, worry is a normal part of everyday life. So, how do you know when you’ve got a normal concern on your hands or when your thoughts are a symptom of an anxiety disorder?
“The distinction between an anxiety disorder and just having normal anxiety is whether your emotions are causing a lot of suffering and dysfunction,” Sally Winston, PsyD, and co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute of Maryland explained to Health.
Symptoms of anxiety disorders are psychological, physical, and behavioral.
Consider whether you have had any of the symptoms daily for the last six months, and if they are causing pain and suffering in your life. If so, it may be time to see a doctor or to seek out treatment.
Signs of Anxiety
You Worry Constantly
If you find yourself on edge — anticipating the worst at school, work, or at home, from the moment your eyes pop open until they fall shut again — you might have what’s called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is the broadest form of anxiety, when worrying about everyday things, both large and small, interferes with your daily life. If you’re under 65, single, and of a lower socioeconomic status, you’re at the highest risk for GAD.
You’re Really Irritable
If anxiety puts you on high alert to all of life’s dangers and complications, it’s no surprise you might feel irritable — and you aren’t alone. In a study of over 6,000 adults, more than 90 percent of those with GAD reported feeling highly irritable during the times when their anxiety was at its worst. For young and middle-aged adults with GAD, the rate of irritability in normal life is twice that of garden-variety worrywarts.
You Have Trouble Falling Asleep (or Staying Asleep)
It’s one thing to toss and turn before an early morning international flight or have restless sleep the night before a big interview. But if you find yourself regularly lying awake tracing the cracks in the ceiling because of worry — or for no reason at all — it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety symptoms can appear in the morning, too. If your mind is racing as soon as you open your eyes, it could be a symptom of anxiety. Some estimate about half of all people with GAD experience sleep disturbance.
Your Muscles Feel Tense
Persistent, ongoing anxiety can cause muscle tension. This is a good excuse as any for a massage. Studies show muscle relaxation therapy can reduce worry for people with GAD, and it can even be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy.
You’re Always Rushing to the Bathroom
Irritable bowel symptom (IBS) isn’t always correlated with anxiety, but the two often go hand in hand. Plus, they can make each other worse. Your tummy is very sensitive to psychological stress — and chronic digestive issues can make a person feel more anxious. IBS, which is characterized by stomachaches, bloating, cramps, gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea, “is basically an anxiety in the digestive tract,” Winston said.
You Avoid Social Situations
If you find yourself RSVP-ing “no” because you’re worried about being judged by others or are afraid you might be somehow humiliated around others, you might have social anxiety disorder. It’s a common form of anxiety, affecting about 12 percent of adults at some point in their lives.
You Have a Phobia
If your fear of snakes, tight spaces, or heights keeps you from camping, getting on an elevator, or seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, you might have a phobia. With phobias, the anxiety around a specific animal, object, or situation is so severe, it interferes with your quality of life. Phobias affect about 12 percent of adults and are more common in women than men.
You Feel Like Everyone’s Looking at You
Social anxiety disorder doesn’t always rear its head when you’re taking center stage at a big work presentation. In fact, more often than not, social anxiety rears its head when you’re eating and drinking with other people or making one-on-one conversation. In these situations, someone with social anxiety disorder experiences extreme self-consciousness that makes them feel like everyone’s watching them. This can lead to blushing, trembling, nausea, or sweating.
You Hold Yourself to Impossible Standards
If you strongly identify as a perfectionist, you may actually have an anxiety disorder.
“If you are constantly judging yourself or you have a lot of anticipatory anxiety about making mistakes or falling short of your standards, then you probably have an anxiety disorder,” Winston further explains.
You’ve had a Panic Attack
This is the pounding heart rate, lightheadedness, stomach-drop feeling you get at the wheel after narrowly avoiding an accident — except you don’t have to be in the car, and there may be no discernible danger in sight. Panic attacks are an intense, overwhelming experience of fear characterized by an elevated heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, and fear of dying or losing control.
If you’ve ever visited the ER because you mistakenly thought you were having a heart attack, you may have been experiencing a panic attack. They’re not uncommon; approximately 22 percent of adults will experience a panic attack in their lives. If they occur frequently, you may be among the 3 percent of the population that has panic disorder.