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Anxiety Symptoms That Many People Overlook

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Anxiety Symptoms That Many People Overlook

“Anxious” is a word with two faces. Sometimes it means eager excitement. “I’m anxious to see you!” we say, as we get off the phone with a friend who’s coming to visit. The other side of “anxious” is a bit darker: “I’m anxious about that test,” we say, when we’re worried about the results. We call the second meaning “anxiety,” and most of us experience it from time to time.

In common usage, both meanings of “anxious” describe our responses to fleeting, time-limited events. But anxiety can also have a much more powerful grip on many of us. Without the right kind of attention, it can rule our lives.

I’m a psychotherapist in private practice north of Boston, Massachusetts, and I’ve worked with many clients who have anxiety. In this, the first of two articles on a psychotherapist’s views on anxiety, I’ll describe what anxiety is and how you can tell whether you or someone close to you is suffering from it. In Part II, I’ll go into its causes and treatments, as well as the best ways to help heal from anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is more common than people think

More people in the United States have anxiety disorders than any other mental illness. Anxiety affects more than 40 million adult Americans and about one in eight children. Some experts put the estimate much higher, because many people don’t know they have anxiety, are diagnosed incorrectly, or don’t seek help for it.

In my psychotherapy practice, nearly all my clients have some form of anxiety. Sometimes it’s the main reason they came to therapy, and sometimes it’s an underlying issue that shows up after we’ve handled the immediate reason they came for help.

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Only about one-third of people who have anxiety disorders seek treatment.

Many anxious people know they have anxiety, but many more do not. They think catastrophizing, expecting the worst, worrying about what people think of them, or staying up late at night worrying about just about everything is normal.

It feels normal because that’s what they’ve been used to most of their lives – but it doesn’t have to be. Most people with an anxiety disorder can overcome it with treatment, support, and self-help strategies.

The difference between feeling worried and having anxiety

An anxiety disorder is different from feeling worried or being afraid. Worries about new or uncertain situations are normal, and feeling afraid in potentially dangerous situations is not only normal, but can sometimes save your life. Worrying about how you will perform on an exam might motivate you to study harder. Worrying about an erratic driver in front of you might help you drive more defensively. Feeling fearful about driving on a winding road in a storm might get you to wait for safer weather conditions.

Also, not everybody who worries a lot has an anxiety disorder. You might feel anxious because of too much work, too much stress, too little sleep, too much coffee, or low blood sugar.

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The biggest distinction between normal worry or fear and anxiety disorders is that anxiety disorders involve some form of chronic anxiety, and the anxiety interferes with normal functioning.

7 specific anxiety disorders

There are several kinds of anxiety disorders, and they each look and feel different from one another. One person might have intense panic, another might avoid social situations, another might be unreasonably frightened by dogs, and someone else might worry about nearly everything.

All anxiety disorders share a persistent fear or worry in situations where most people would not be afraid. Specific anxiety disorders have other, specific symptoms.

1. Social Phobia

People with social phobias are afraid of embarrassment or judgement in social situations and may blush, feel tongue-tied, go blank, have rapid heart rate, or show other signs of anxiety in those situations. They will avoid social situations whenever possible.

2. Special Phobias

People with special phobias might be unreasonably afraid of animals such as dogs or spiders, natural events like storms or lightning, heights, open spaces, enclosed spaces, and other parts of the normal world. They may go to extremes to avoid these things.

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3. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can include feeling nervous most of the time, a sense of impending doom, feeling helpless, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, a queasy feeling, and tension in the neck, shoulders, or both.

4. Acute Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Both of these anxiety disorders sometimes occur after people have witnessed or experienced a physical threat. Symptoms include disturbing memories, flashbacks of the event, trouble sleeping or concentrating, and feeling either tense or numb. Acute Stress Disorder symptoms begin within a month of the traumatic event, while PTSD symptoms typically begin later. Symptoms can last for many years without treatment.

5. Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have unexpected, severe anxiety attacks during which they are afraid they might die, pass out, or that they are suffocating. They often avoid places where panic attacks occur, which can lead to agoraphobia.

6. Hypochondria

People with hypochondria (now called Illness Anxiety Disorder) worry about having illnesses they probably don’t have. They catastrophize minor or imagined symptoms into a worst-case scenario. For example, they may be convinced that a headache means they have a fatal brain tumor.

7. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Sufferers may check obsessively, count when counting is unnecessary, and in general do ritualized behaviors. They feel unbearably anxious if they do not perform these rituals.

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The most common anxiety disorders, in approximately this order, are: Social Phobia, Specific Phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Acute and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, Panic Disorder, Hypochondria, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

In my practice, I most often encounter Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD, though I have also had many clients with Panic Disorder, Hypochondria, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Sometimes, people come in with more than one anxiety disorder. Hypochondria and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, for example, often show up in the same person, as do Social Anxiety Disorder and perfectionism which, though not an “official” anxiety disorder, contributes greatly to most forms of anxiety.

Signs of anxiety disorders

If you identify with any of the following symptoms, you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder.

  • You’re almost always worried or on edge.
  • You have irrational fears that you just can’t shake.
  • You’re often afraid that bad things will happen if you don’t do things in a particular way.
  • You avoid everyday situations or activities because they make you anxious.
  • You have sudden, unpredictable attacks of heart-pounding panic.
  • You almost always expect the worst.
  • You have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep.
  • Your muscles almost always feel tense.
  • You often feel overwhelmed.
  • You expect more from yourself than most people do
  • You tend to focus on your health and personal problems more than other things in your life.
  • Your anxiety interferes with work, school, or family life.
  • You have one or more of the following physical symptoms: pounding heart, sweating when you’re not exercising or in a warm place, headaches, frequent upset stomach or diarrhea, dizziness, shortness of breath, shaking or trembling.

Some anxiety disorders are harder to spot

In my experience with psychotherapy clients, PTSD is usually the most difficult to spot because its symptoms don’t always cleanly match the standard definition. PTSD can look like depression, several other forms of anxiety disorder, ADHD, or a combination of mental illnesses.

An example: I once worked with a client who seemed to cycle through several anxiety disorders within a few months. She first displayed typical signs of panic disorder, and we quickly worked through them. But then OCD symptoms appeared. Again, we worked through them in what seemed like record time. Irrational fears and intrusive, disturbing thoughts soon followed.

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It was a few months before we understood that what she was actually suffering from was the aftermath of childhood trauma. She had what I now think of as free-floating anxiety – a form of anxiety that unconsciously attaches itself to other anxiety syndromes. A clue to understanding how to help her was that she had majored in psychology and knew about various mental illnesses. Her half-remembered knowledge of common anxiety disorders gave her free-floating anxiety a place to focus. Working through the trauma helped her resolve all her anxiety symptoms.

Stay tuned!

In this article, we’ve looked at how worrying and fear are different from anxiety disorders and have identified the main symptoms of common anxiety disorders. In Part II of this two-part series, we’ll go into the causes of anxiety disorders, their treatments, and some self-help practices people with anxiety disorders and their loved ones can do.

More by this author

David J. Bookbinder, LMHC

Psychotherapist, writer, and photographer north of Boston, MA.

Anxiety Symptoms That Many People Overlook The Best Anxiety Treatment I’d Recommend as a Psychotherapist

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

20 Amazing Facts About Dreams that You Might Not Know About

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20 Amazing Facts About Dreams that You Might Not Know About

Dreams — Mysterious, bewildering, eye-opening and sometimes a nightmarish living hell. Dreams are all that and much more.

Here are 20 amazing facts about dreams that you might have never heard about:

Fact #1: You can’t read while dreaming, or tell the time

    If you are unsure whether you are dreaming or not, try reading something. The vast majority of people are incapable of reading in their dreams.

    The same goes for clocks: each time you look at a clock it will tell a different time and the hands on the clock won’t appear to be moving as reported by lucid dreamers.

    Fact #2: Lucid dreaming

    There is a whole subculture of people practicing what is called lucid or conscious dreaming. Using various techniques, these people have supposedly learned to assume control of their dreams and do amazing things like flying, passing through walls, and traveling to different dimensions or even back in time.

    Want to learn how to control your dreams? You can try these tips:

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    Lucid Dreaming: This Is How You Can Control Your Dreams

    Fact #3: Inventions inspired by dreams

    Dreams are responsible for many of the greatest inventions of mankind. A few examples include:

    • The idea for Google -Larry Page
    • Alternating current generator -Tesla
    • DNA’s double helix spiral form -James Watson
    • The sewing machine -Elias Howe
    • Periodic table -Dimitri Mendeleyev

    …and many, many more.

    Fact #4: Premonition dreams

    There are some astounding cases where people actually dreamt about things which happened to them later, in the exact same ways they dreamed about.

    You could say they got a glimpse of the future, or it might have just been coincidence. The fact remains that this is some seriously interesting and bizarre phenomena. Some of the most famous premonition dreams include:

    • Abraham Lincoln dreamt of His Assassination
    • Many of the victims of 9/11 had dreams warning them about the catastrophe
    • Mark Twain’s dream of his brother’s demise
    • 19 verified precognitive dreams about the Titanic catastrophe

    Fact #5: Sleep paralysis

    Hell is real and it is called sleep paralysis. It’s the stuff of true nightmares. I’ve been a sleep paralysis sufferer as a kid and I can attest to how truly horrible it is.

    Two characteristics of sleep paralysis are the inability to move (hence paralysis) and a sense of an extremely evil presence in the room with you. It doesn’t feel like a dream, but 100% real. Studies show that during an attack, sleep paralysis sufferers show an overwhelming amygdala activity. The amygdala is responsible for the “fight or flight” instinct and the emotions of fear, terror and anxiety. Enough said!

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    Fact #6: REM sleep disorder

    In the state of REM (rapid-eye-movement) stage of your sleep your body is normally paralyzed. In rare cases, however, people act out their dreams. These have resulted in broken arms, legs, broken furniture, and in at least one reported case, a house burnt down.

    Fact #7: Sexual dreams

    The very scientifically-named “nocturnal penile tumescence” is a very well documented phenomena. In laymen’s term, it simply means that you get a stiffy while you sleep. Actually, studies indicate that men get up to 20 erections per dream.

    Fact #8: Unbelievable sleepwalkers

      Sleepwalking is a very rare and potentially dangerous sleep disorder. It is an extreme form of REM sleep disorder, and these people don’t just act out their dreams, but go on real adventures at night.

      Lee Hadwin is a nurse by profession, but in his dreams he is an artist. Literally. He “sleepdraws” gorgeous portraits, of which he has no recollection afterwards. Strange sleepwalking “adventures” include:

      • A woman having sex with strangers while sleepwalking
      • A man who drove 22 miles and killed his cousin while sleepwalking
      • A sleepwalker who walked out of the window from the third floor, and barely survived

      Fact #9: Dream drug

      There are actually people who like dreaming and dreams so much that they never want to wake up. They want to continue on dreaming even during the day, so they take an illegal and extremely potent hallucinogenic drug called Dimethyltryptamine. It is actually only an isolated and synthetic form of the chemical our brains produce naturally during dreaming.

      Fact #10 Dream-catcher

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        The dream-catcher is one of the most well-known Native American symbols. It is a loose web or webs woven around a hoop and decorated with sacred objects meant to protect against nightmares.

        Fact #11: Increased brain activity

        You would associate sleeping with peace and quiet, but actually our brains are more active during sleep than during the day.

        Fact #12: Creativity and dreams

        As we mentioned before, dreams are responsible for inventions, great artworks and are generally just incredibly interesting. They are also “recharging” our creativity.

        Scientists also say that keeping a dream diary helps with creativity.

        In rare cases of REM disorder, people actually don’t dream at all. These people suffer from significantly decreased creativity and perform badly at tasks requiring creative problem solving.

        Fact #13: Pets dream too

          Our animal companions dream as well. Watch a dog or a cat sleep and you can see that they are moving their paws and making noises like they were chasing something. Go get ’em buddy!

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          Fact #14: You always dream—you just don’t remember it

          Many people claim that they don’t dream at all, but that’s not true: we all dream, but up to 60% of people don’t remember their dreams at all.

          Fact #15: Blind people dream too

          Blind people who were not born blind see images in their dreams but people who were born blind don’t see anything at all. They still dream, and their dreams are just as intense and interesting, but they involve the other senses beside sight.

          Fact #16: In your dreams, you only see faces that you already know

            It is proven that in dreams, we can only see faces that we have seen in real life before. So beware: that scary-looking old lady next to you on the bus might as well be in your next nightmare.

            Fact #17: Dreams tend to be negative

            Surprisingly, dreams are more often negative than positive. The three most widely reported emotions felt during dreaming are anger, sadness and fear.

            Fact #18: Multiple dreams per night

            You can have up to seven different dreams per night depending on how many REM cycles you have. We only dream during the REM period of sleep, and the average person dreams one to two hours every night.

            Fact #19: Gender differences

            Interestingly, 70% of all the characters in a man’s dream are other men, but women’s dream contain an equal amount of women and men. Also men’s dreams contain a lot more aggression. Both women and men dream about sexual themes equally often.

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            Fact #20: Not everyone dreams in color

            As much as 12% of people only dream in black and white.

            Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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