Most of us will feel anxious or stressed from time to time. Some people get that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling when they’re opening an envelope with the results from an exam, others people feel nervous if they have to speak in front of an audience or perform in a competition. It’s normal to struggle with that kind of pressure.
However, if those feelings come up on a regular basis, to the point that they interfere with your day to day life, this can lead to negative health consequences.
The symptoms of anxiety can vary among individuals because everybody reacts to anxiety in a specific way. However, the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Tension, nervousness, or restless
- The feeling of panic or dread
- Elevated heart rate
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Sweating or shaking
- Trouble focusing on anything other than the source of worry
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness and tiredness
- Strong desire to avoid the situation
- Obsessive behaviors
- Flashbacks or anxiety about events long in the past 1
Some people get symptoms that are far more intense and that come on quickly then reach their peak within a few minutes. If you experience at least four of the symptoms below, then you may be having a panic attack:
- Sweating or shaking
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty breathing
- Choking sensation
- Chest tightness or pain
- Nausea or an upset stomach
- Dizziness or faintness
- Sudden hot or cold feeling
- Numbness or tingling
One of the difficulties that medical professionals face when diagnosing individuals with anxiety is that some of these patient-reported symptoms are “feelings” which can be difficult to measure.2
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Because of this, there is a growing trend towards using neuroimaging to understand anxiety, and even in using algorithms to help with diagnosis and managing the symptoms.3
How Anxiety Affects Daily Life
People with mild anxiety, or anxiety that affects them only in specific, rare situations, can usually cope by waiting out the symptoms or using meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, or other tricks to help them get by.
Competition anxiety is a good example of this. Many people who play competitive sports perform well in training but find that their confidence and the quality of their performance deteriorates when they are in a competitive setting.4
On the other hand, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more severe and can interfere with quality of life on a day-to-day basis.
Anxiety Sometimes Looks Like Something Else
It’s not always obvious that a person is behaving a certain way because they are anxious. A person who has an anxiety disorder might:
- Be snappy or irritable
- Struggle to get work done because they can’t focus
- Perform poorly because they are tired from not sleeping or eating
- Stop taking care of their appearance because they feel it is too much to cope with
- Be late for appointments because of other compulsive behaviors
- Miss appointments because they could not face being in a situation that makes them nervous
- Commit to things they can’t do because they are scared to say no
- Engage in destructive behaviors or use drugs or alcohol
Mental health conversations are becoming more common, and there is now a lot more information out there about managing stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s important to continue these conversations and be open to giving or receiving support when necessary to continue the trend about being more open when it comes to discussing or asking for support about mental health issues.