From job search stress to first date jitters, anxiety is a normal part of life. But when does anxiety become less of an occasional feeling, and more of a cause for concern? If anxiety is a constant in your life and is negatively impacting your mental health and well-being, it’s time you had a chat with your doctor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday tasks or events, or may be specific to certain objects or rituals.” And such conditions are pretty common. An estimated 18% of adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If any of the following symptoms are disrupting your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
1. Excessive worrying
This one is pretty much a no-brainer in terms of basic criteria for an anxiety disorder, but it must be mentioned, as it’s one of the first signs. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a person with generalized anxiety disorder typically worries about the same things the average person worries about, but in such an extreme way that it interferes with daily life. While a healthy person may worry up to an hour a day, a person with generalized anxiety disorder can be consumed by these thoughts for up to 10 hours a day. These worries will impair a person’s ability to function.
2. Trouble sleeping
For people with an anxiety disorder, lack of proper sleep can be an everyday reality. Mayo Clinic lists symptoms like fatigue and irritability among common contenders for those with generalized anxiety disorder. It’s not uncommon to have a restless night’s sleep on the eve of a work presentation or the night before a big trip, but having to constantly battle with the inability to fall, and stay, asleep because you can’t stop worrying may be a sign you have an anxiety disorder.
3. Panic attacks
If a person often experiences a true panic attack, they should seek medical help, as they most likely have a panic disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health defines panic attacks as sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, trembling, choking sensations, and a feeling of impending doom. If you have a panic attack as a result of an almost-disastrous car accident, that would likely be considered a normal and appropriate response. However, if you have sudden and repeated attacks of intense worries about when the next attack will occur or avoid the places where panic attacks have happened in the past, it may be a panic disorder.
4. Irrational fear
Phobias fall into the category of anxiety disorders, and according to NAMI, someone with a phobia is more than just uncomfortable in a certain situation. Particular places, events, or objects will trigger powerful reactions of strong, irrational fear. When a person’s reaction is so disproportionately aligned with reality, they could have an anxiety disorder.
5. Feeling judged or rejected
A lot of people get nervous or face some degree of stage fright when faced with a large crowd for a speech or a big presentation. Those with a social anxiety disorder in particular, though, have a marked fear of social performance situations. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a person may feel embarrassed, judged, rejected, or fearful of offending others. People with social anxiety disorder will often worry for weeks prior to a social function, feel they’ll be judged or ridiculed, or simply avoid social gatherings altogether.
6. Pounding heart
Physical symptoms also play a role for people with an anxiety disorder. Separate from panic attacks, which are isolated incidents, NAMI says a pounding or racing heart along with a shortness of breath can be a sign of anxiety. And heart palpitations should definitely prompt you to see a doctor right away, as you may need to consult a cardiologist.
7. Seeing worrying as beneficial
Most people know worrying doesn’t solve anything. People with an anxiety disorder, however, don’t see it that way. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, worrying is, in some way, a protective mechanism for some. “Through worrying, they will be better able to manage future negative scenarios,” the organization says. Keep in mind, though, that never in the history of the world has worry resolved any conflict on its own.
8. Being on edge
Nerves are bound to pop up from time to time, especially when a situation warrants it. But it’s much more intense for a person struggling with an anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health says a common sign of generalized anxiety disorder is feeling wound-up or on edge. If you’re constantly tense without good reason, it may be time to seek help.
Flashbacks to traumatic moments or events are most commonly associated with PTSD, but those with other anxiety disorders can experience something along the same lines. In fact, a small study showed those with social anxiety may replay socially stressful scenarios in a similar way. While their flashbacks don’t involve traumatic memories, the types of avoidance behaviors and psychological distress they feel may be just as intense.
There’s a big difference between taking pride in your work, and totally obsessing over it. If your perfectionism is on another level, it’s time to consider how it’s hurting your mental health. Sally Winston, psychologist and co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute of Maryland, told Health, “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.” Don’t let your desire to succeed take over your entire life. If it’s become out of your control, you should consider visiting your doctor or scheduling an appointment with a psychologist.