Do you worry that you may have anxiety? If you do, you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Although anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S., many sufferers don’t seek treatment.
There are endless sources of stress — work, money, family, personal health, and social interactions, to name a few. Our body’s response to these stressors varies widely from person to person. How can you tell the difference between run-of-the-mill anxious feelings and anxiety that needs treatment? In this article, we identify some of the signs your anxiety could require professional help.
1. Bodily Changes
Several physical changes can occur when we are anxious. Many of these symptoms aren’t a big deal in the short term. If they continue for more than a few months, you may have an anxiety disorder. Here are some bodily signs of anxiety:
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Having a hard time focusing on work or other activities
- Increased muscle aches and tension
- Insomnia or fitful sleep
- Gastrointestinal problems
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, and they don’t have an identifiable physical origin, consult a healthcare professional. Your body may be trying to tell you something about your anxiety.
2. Changes in Activities
Anxiety creates changes in behavior as well. You may experience less enthusiasm for the things you usually enjoy, such as exercising or cooking. You might also avoid social engagements, as meeting with friends or going out can feel too daunting. Eating much more or less than usual is also a common symptom of anxiety.
Some of these changes occur due to a lack of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that stabilizes mood. Anxiety and depression are frequently treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs increase the serotonin in the brain between cells, promoting feelings of wellness. They can be prescribed by your primary care physician, or you can access mental health treatment online.
If you’re concerned by physical symptoms or changes in your activities, consider getting a medical evaluation. After an examination, your doctor may recommend medication or talk therapy. Many people with anxiety are reluctant to see a therapist, but it doesn’t have to be a complex process.
3. Uncontrollable Worry
Some amount of worrying is customary and even healthy. When you’re nervous about an upcoming exam or job interview, feeling a little anxious can help you better prepare. Or, if you’re a parent, it’s natural to worry about a significant event in your child’s life.
For some individuals, however, worrying is persistent and hurts daily life. Here are some indications of unhealthy worrying:
- Social avoidance
- Shakiness or panic attacks
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Repetitive negative thoughts
If your worries are out of control, you may require medication to ease them. You will want to familiarize yourself with different classes of drugs used to treat anxiety. Along with the SSRIs mentioned above, benzodiazepines are another class of commonly prescribed medications.
Benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Xanax) can be very effective, but they are not recommended for long-term use. They can be habit-forming and challenging to quit. SSRIs such as Zoloft and Prozac can be taken for more extended periods, but they have some risk of side effects.
Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety, but there are other forms. Among these are phobias, which, according to the ADAA, affect nearly 9% of the U.S. population.
Two common phobias are agoraphobia, the fear of open or crowded spaces, and claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces. When phobias such as these are severe, they can be debilitating. For example, an agoraphobe may be completely unable to use public transportation, while a claustrophobe would shun elevators.
Phobias can often be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In a series of sessions, a therapist can help change a person’s limiting beliefs, which prevent them from engaging in certain activities. Exposure therapy is often part of CBT, and it involves exposing the individual to what they are afraid of. It is done step by way, allowing them to replace old fears with new, positive experiences.
5. Symptoms of PTSD or OCD
The ADAA reports that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects 3.5% of people in the U.S. People with PTSD are easily triggered emotionally, and the condition can elicit feelings of fear, sadness, or anger.
We often think of PTSD as something that soldiers get from combat, but there can be many causes. Experiencing sexual violence or physical abuse can lead to PTSD. A terrible accident can also trigger symptoms.
While less common, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety that affects about 1% of Americans, according to the ADAA. You may hear people jokingly say they have OCD, but the actual disorder is characterized by uncontrollable behavior. Some examples included compulsive hand washing, arranging things in exact order, or counting to 10 before opening a door. Many people with OCD know that they are behaving illogically, but they still cannot stop.
In many cases, those who suffer from PTSD have both anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s essential to seek help, either online or in person, so symptoms can be accurately evaluated by a medical professional. To address PTSD and OCD, a combination of talk therapy and medication is often needed.
There is no quick fix for anxiety disorder, but knowing you are not alone can help. Find what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it! You can work to improve anxiety symptoms with talk therapy and healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise. For more severe anxiety, medication may also be indicated.