So, I’ve got to start by telling you I’m not a doctor. I don’t diagnose or treat mental illness, although I’ve studied (and personally experienced – lucky me!) anxiety and other mental disorders quite a bit over the past decade. What I’m saying is – I’m qualified to write this article, but if any of this resonates with you or if you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, get yourself to a professional for help!
1. Worrying all the time – about everything
It’s totally normal to worry about legit things like getting an interview when you’re job hunting, finances when you’re broke, and family tension when a holiday is coming up. It might be an anxiety disorder if you worry about things that aren’t happening and aren’t likely to happen, and if you are worrying constantly.
2. Avoiding fun
Look, we all have moments where we opt to stay in, and even the least neurotic of us sometimes feel embarrassed or self conscious in uncomfortable social situations. It might be an anxiety disorder if you are intentionally avoiding parties and social situations because you are worried about being judged, embarrassed, or even humiliated.
3. Panic attacks
Most humans feel anxiety before a high stakes situation like a job interview, speech, or performance. Actually, if you weren’t low key (or let’s be honest – high key) freaking out before a speech, I’d be concerned – who even are you? That’s normal. Panic attacks – which might include racing heart, sweatiness, shaking, shortness of breath, and a feeling that something bad is going to happen – are generally a signal something is not right. If you’ve had one recently, and especially if you’re now avoiding situations you’re afraid will trigger it again, it’s time to see a professional.
4. Irrational worries
If you’re camping, and there are warning signs everywhere that bears visit this campsite sometimes and you need to follow the safety precautions, some worry is normal. (That just happened to me this summer but I lived to tell the tale & actually never even saw a bear at my campsite.) It is realistic to fear or avoid something that poses a real danger. It is not realistic to fear or avoid something that poses no (or very unlikely) danger.
5. Nightmares & flashbacks
It’s actually very normal to experience nightmares or flashbacks of a semi-recent trauma. Our brains do some interesting things as they try to process and figure out the world, and this can be a part of it. If the trauma happened many months or years ago and you’re still experiencing nightmares or flashbacks, this may be an anxiety disorder.
6. Physical symptoms
When you’re just being neurotic, you don’t have physical symptoms. When it is an anxiety disorder, you may experience a variety of physical symptoms in addition to panic attacks like: restlessness, being really tired, feeling like your mind is blank or that you can’t focus, aches and soreness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, sweating, and stomach/digestive problems.
7. Interferes with life
If you’re neurotic, chances are you regularly deal with your friends and family teasing you about it sometimes. When it’s an anxiety disorder, it can actually interfere with your relationships and at work.
8. Unable to stop
This can be the freakiest sign of an anxiety disorder. When it’s just you being neurotic, you catch yourself and are able to redirect or be rational. With an anxiety disorder, you may notice that your anxiety is more extreme than the situation or that your worries are irrational, but you can’t stop it. Or, you might notice that you have recurring thoughts that you can’t stop and don’t like that seem to pop into your mind all the time and won’t leave.
Does any of this sound like you? I’m not kidding when I say to reach out to a professional. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and therapists can all help you. An anxiety disorder does not always mean medication, it can also be successfully treated with certain types of therapy. If you do end up with a prescription, that’s ok! Some people’s bodies cook up the combo of brain chemicals they need, and for some of us, we need a little synthetic help. There’s no shame in that. You deserve to feel better!