How do I know if I have an anxiety disorder?
Maybe I am just a nervous or overly cautious person. Each of us have a primal response to a threat. For our own survival, our brains have the ability to sense danger and respond to the danger quickly. This is our fight or flight response. Helpful when fighting a sabertooth tiger, not so helpful when getting ready to speak in public or another stressful experience. When this fight or flight response is working over time the result is increased worry/concern and even panic. So the question I am asked frequently is how I do know if I have an anxiety disorder…AND what can I do to stop this anxiety?
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
First, let’s define what is an anxiety disorder? Anxiety is not only feeling nervous or anxious it is having an excessive worry, unable to stop or control the wanorry and is associated with physical symptoms. These physical symptoms are typically cluster together: feeling restless, easily tired, difficulty concentrating, easily annoyed, muscle pain from muscle tightness and unable to sleep.
Do you spend a lot of time planning out events or scenarios in your head? Does this time of planning prevent you from making a decision in a timely manner? People with anxiety disorders will spend much of their waking hours in thought or worry regarding various events. Because they are always in this elevated state of anxiety, they typically have physical symptoms that they have not associated with anxiety. Such as, increased stomach acid resulting in heartburn or acid reflux. Also, they are tired most of the day and are associating this with their poor sleep instead of the cause of the poor sleep…anxiety. They have muscle soreness, tight shoulders or low back pain. These symptoms are not only mental but also physical and many times folks will seek out help for the physical symptoms, receive medication treatment… yet truly until the under lying cause for these physical symptoms are corrected, the medication is only a temporary solution.
Having these symptoms more days than not over a period of weeks, months and years increases the overall intensity of your physical symptoms. If you are uncertain regaring your physical symptoms…take a look at your medications within your home. Do you have antacids? Pain pills? Sleeping pills? Digestion pills? Taking an inventory of what you have on hand at home is a quick way to begin understand your physical problems you have developed over time.
What about …when the worry gets out of control?
When the worry gets out of control, whether you realize it or not you can have a panic attack. For those that have had a panic attack, you know how scary they are. Panic attacks can occur with a specific fear, like getting in an elevator to unanticipated or random. This abrupt change from a calm state to intense fear is associated with the following physical symptoms:
Feeling as though your heart is beating out of your chest
Unable to catch your breath
Numbness or tingling in your hands
Feeling as though you are going to die
Fear of losing control
Some have all these symptoms, some only a few…but once you have experienced a panic attack, coupled with an underlying anxiety disorder…you begin to worry that you are going to have a panic attack.
Spending Much of Your Time Worrying
As you reflect on your day and night activities…are they centered around worry?
Planning is a necessary part of our lives, we need to prepare for the day or night ahead. The problem comes when we get stuck in a cycle of continuous worry that never seems to have an end in sight. Your mind and body need a period of rest and relaxation.
How do I stop the anxiety?
Good news is that anxiety is treatable.
Since anxiety is an elevated sense of your fight-or-flight nervous system, it is treated by reducing or calming down this overly charge defense mechanism . Best achieved by mediation. Mediation is more like the daily medication you would take to prevent the anxiety from occurring that day. Just like medication, it needs to be taken or completed on a daily basis, sometimes twice or three times a day. The research is over whelming. A simple google search will bring you to several sites that will help you learn and practice the art of meditation. When you are feeling anxious, or in a panic…taking sometime to deep breath and relax is the fastest way to calm down..naturally. Learning how to relax in a systematic way, teaches you to respond to the panic without having to work hard trying to remember what you are supposed to do. Here is a you tube resource I recommend, it is less than 4 minutes (click here to learn to deep breath)
If you have an anxiety disorder and continue to have difficulty functioning within your day, I would encourage you to reach out to a mental health provider.
We all need help from time to time, your willingness to reach out and seek help from someone who understands your daily struggle will improve your ability to control your anxiety.
Don’t let the anxiety control you…instead you can control the anxiety.