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Anxiety Symptoms That Many People Overlook

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.

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 28, 2019

The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected

The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected

Admit it, you feel good when other people think you’re nice. Maybe you were complimented by a stranger saying that you had a nice outfit. You felt good about yourself and you were happy for the rest of the day.

    We all like to feel liked, whether by a stranger or a loved one. It makes you feel valued and that feeling can be addictive. But when the high wears off and you no longer have validation that someone thinks you’re a good, sweet person, you may feel insecure and lacking. While wanting others to like you isn’t in itself a bad thing, it can be like a disease when you feel that you constantly need to be liked by others.

    Humans are wired to want to be liked.

    It’s human nature to seek approval from others. In ancient times, we needed acceptance to survive. Humans are social animals and we need to bond with others and form a community to survive. If we are not liked by others, we will be left out.

    Babies are born to be cute and be liked by adults.

      The large rounded head, big forehead, large eyes, chubby cheeks, and a rounded body. Babies can’t survive without an adult taking care of them. It’s vital for adults to find babies lovely to pay attention to them and divert energy towards them.[1]

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      Recognitions have always been given by others.

        From the time you were a child, whether at school or at home, you have been receiving recognition from external parties. For instance, you received grades from teachers, and if you wanted something, you needed approval from your parents. We’ve learned to get what we want by catering to other people’s expectations. Maybe you wanted to get a higher grade in art so you’d be more attentive in art classes than others to impress your teacher. Your teacher would have a generally good impression on you and would likely to give you a higher grade.

        When you grow up, it’s no different. Perhaps you are desperate to get your work done so you do things that your manager would approve. Or maybe you try to impress your date by doing things they like but you don’t really like.

        Facebook and Instagram have only made things worse. People posting their photos and sharing about their life on Instagram just to feels so good to get more likes and attention.

        Being liked becomes essential to reaching desires.

          We start to get hyper focused on how others see us, and it’s easy to imagine having the spotlight on you at all time. People see you and they take an interest in you. This feels good. In turn, you start doing more things that bring you more attention. It’s all positive until you do something they don’t like and you receive criticism. When this happens, you spiral because you’ve lost the feeling of acceptance.

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          But the reality is this is all just perception. Humans, as a species, are selfish. We are all just looking at ourselves; we only perceive others are giving us their focus. Even for those who please others are actually focusing on making themselves feel good. It’s like an optical illusion for your ego.

            The desire to be liked is an endless chase.

              Aiming to please others in order to feel better will exhaust you because you can never catch up with others’ expectation.

              The ideal image will always change.

              It used to be ideal to have a fair weight, a little bit fat was totally acceptable. Then it’s ideal to be very slim. Recently we’ve seen “dad-bods” getting some positive attention. But this is already quickly changing. In fact, a recent article from Men’s Health asked 100 women if they would date a guy who had a dad-bod, about 50% of women claimed to not care either way, only 15% exclusively date men with a “dad bod”.[2]

              People’s expectations on you can be wrong.

              Most people put their expectations on others based on what’s right in the social norms, yet the social norms are created by humans in which 80% of them are just ordinary people according to the 80/20 rules.[3]

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              Think about it, every day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you filter what you believe to be truth. If someone compliments you, you take it and add it to an idea of what the best version of yourself is. When someone criticizes you, even in a destructive way, you might accept it altogether, or add it to a list of things you’re insecure about. When you absorb the wrong opinion from others, you will either sabotage your self-esteem or overestimate yourself by accepting all the good compliments and stop growing; or accepting all the destructive criticisms and sabotage your own self-esteem and happiness.

              Others’ desires are not the same as yours.

                If you live your life as one long effort of trying to please other people, you will never be happy. You’re always going to rely on others to make you feel worth living. This leads to total confusion when it comes to your personal goals; when there’s no external recognition, you don’t know what to live for.

                The only person to please is yourself.

                  Think of others’ approval as fuel and think of yourself as a car. When that fuel runs out, you can’t function. This is not a healthy mindset.

                  In reality, we’re human and we can create our own fuel. You can feel good based on how much you like yourself. When you do things to make you like yourself more, you can start to see a big change in your opinion. For example, if being complimented by others made you feel good and accepted, look in the mirror and compliment yourself. Say what you wish others would say about you.

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                  Internal approval takes practice, but it’s worth the effort. You have to re-train your own mind. Think of the dog who knows there is food when the bell rings, the reflex is hard wired into the dog.[4] We need our own triggers to reinforce the habit of internal approval too. Recognize yourself every day instead of waiting for people to do it for you, check out in this article the steps to take to recognize your own achievements and gain empowerment: Don’t Wait for People to Praise You. Do It Yourself Every Single Day

                  Notice that when you start to focus on yourself and what to do to make yourself happy, others may criticize you. Since you’ve stopped trying to please others to meet their expectations, they may judge you for what you do. Be critical about what they say about you. They aren’t always right but so are you. Everyone has blind spots. Let go of biased and subjective comments but be humble and open to useful advice that will improve you.

                  Remember that you are worth it, every day. It will take time to stop relying on others to make you feel important and worth something, but the sooner you start trying, the happier and healthier you will be.

                  Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

                  Reference

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