Jangling nerves, perspiration, rapid heartbeat…from time to time, all people experience feelings of anxiousness, particularly when faced with stressful situations like job interviews and public speaking. Under these types of circumstances, fear and worry about what may happen is a natural and normal response. When anxiety becomes chronic however, it may be cause for concern. Roughly 18% of American adults are affected by some type of anxiety disorder. Learning about eight common signs helps people determine whether or not they need professional help.
1. Excessive Worry
People with generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) tend to suffer from excessive worry. Racing thoughts build, and feelings of anxiousness over anything and everything become intense. If individuals experience this type of anxiety for more than six months or it becomes so bad that it interferes with daily functioning, they should consult a health care professional.
2. Sleep Problems
Anxiety disorders often result in sleep problems. Racing thoughts inhibit relaxation, causing a lack of sleep or fitful sleep. Over time, sleep deprivation creates havoc, from weakening the immune system to affecting cognition and problem-solving abilities.
3. Irrational Fears or Phobias
Some people become anxious about specific things or situations like flying, animals, clowns, heights, or small spaces. Excessive fear and anxiety in situations of relatively low risk indicate signs of a phobia, a type of anxiety disorder. Although phobias can be overwhelming, they typically don't interfere with daily functioning. Treatment can help people overcome phobias, however, for better peace of mind.
4. Muscle Tension
Severe anxiety often creates chronic muscle tension, which results in physical symptoms like a stiff neck or a sore back. Regular exercise and relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help reduce the muscle tension that comes with anxiety.
5. Chronic Indigestion
In addition to affecting the muscles, anxiety can also upset the digestive system, making the term "nervous stomach" a real and common problem. Many people with anxiety suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS). Symptoms of IBS include stomachache, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
6. Social Anxiety
From office parties to shopping at the mall, social situations can cause crippling anxiety for some people. When social environments cause people to shut down emotionally or create feelings of panic on a regular basis, it is time to seek help. Successful treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication.
7. Panic Attacks
Some people experience extreme episodes of anxiety marked by physical symptoms similar to that of a heart attack. Heart rates increase, breathing may become difficult, and people may sweat profusely or become lightheaded. These terrifying bouts are known as panic attacks, and they may come out of the blue or be triggered by a stimulus. While a panic attack may be a one-time occurrence, regular attacks can be debilitating, and people should seek help.
Some people who have experienced stressful events have flashbacks, episodes where they re-experience the event in their mind. Chronic flashbacks can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Individuals who believe they may be suffering from PTSD should seek professional help. Treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.
While anxiousness is a normal response to stressful situations, chronic anxiety can be debilitating. Fortunately, a number of treatments can help. Learning more about the different signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder can help people determine the severity of their condition and whether professional help is needed.