Have you ever wondered if maybe your stress could be more than just stress? Maybe you've been feeling miserable for a while now, but you don't feel depressed, and you're wondering what's causing those feelings of dread. As common as the term "anxiety" is, it's also common to not actually know what it feels like. So if you're asking yourself, "do I have anxiety?"or are googling things like, "how to know if you have anxiety," this article can help you answer those questions.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as therapy, nor is it a replacement for mental health treatment. It should not be considered professional, medical advice for any one individual and is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health condition, and does not create a clinician/client relationship. If in crisis, call 911 or go to local ER. See full disclosure statement here.
I remember when my own anxiety showed up. It took me nearly a year to actually realize it was anxiety I was feeling. I was a psychology major in college, and I still didn't know what anxiety actually felt like. I googled the title of this article at the time, and still didn't know for sure. There's a big difference between knowing what anxiety is conceptually and actually experiencing it.
So, what does anxiety feel like?
I think part of the problem with identifying anxiety in ourselves is due to the fact anxiety can show up in a myriad of ways. I've worked with countless clients seeking anxiety therapy, and no two persons have ever had the same symptoms. However, there are threads that connect everyone with anxiety. Here are some common ways I've heard anxiety described:
"I can't stop replaying that conversation."
"My throat feels like it may close up at any moment."
"There's just a constant feeling of doom, but I can't pinpoint a cause."
"Falling asleep feels impossible. I can't turn my mind off."
"I just want a break from my brain."
"I feel like I can't ever get a full breath."
"I have to have a plan. Going with the flow isn't an option."
"I feel like I'm having an out of body experience."
"My body feels off-kilter, like I'm walking on a boat."
"I'm nauseous all the time."
"I need to control my environment and my food intake."
"I only feel safe in my own home/my bed."
"The 'what if' thoughts just never stop."
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
While there are many disorders qualified as anxiety disorders, every one includes physical symptoms. This is because of how the fight/flight/freeze mode impacts our bodies.
In the above list, you'll notice anxiety is often described as a tightness: tightness of chest, tightness in the throat, muscle tension, and tension headaches incredibly common in people with anxiety. This is because anxiety triggers our bodies to be at the ready, and having muscles be ready for action equals muscle tension.
The gut is also frequently impacted due to its physiological connection to the brain. This can show up in symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome, causing nausea, diarrhea, and/or constipation. When bodies are in that fight/flight/freeze mode, digestion isn't important, which wreaks havoc on the digestive system when prolonged.
Mental Symptoms of Anxiety
In a lot of ways, anxiety equals worry, doubt, or fear of a bad thing happening. This can show up in racing thoughts, slower thoughts, rumination, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty processing emotions, leading to crying spells and/or emotional numbing. Avoiding situations that could potentially lead to a bad thing happening is also massively common.
Perfectionism is also something I frequently see in those with anxiety disorders. This is often because if someone can keep everything perfect, the odds of something bad happening, whatever that bad thing is, are lowered.
So, do I have anxiety?
While I can't give you a definitive answer, the odds are good that if you're googling that question, you may be struggling with anxiety. The good news is there are really effective anxiety therapy options!
You do not have to live with the constant physical and mental symptoms that come with anxiety disorders, nor do you have to stay stuck wondering if you have anxiety. You can get back to living a life without fear in the driver's seat and reengage fully with all the relationships, activities, and goals you have in your life.
I provide online anxiety therapy to adults (college age and up) all throughout Washington state and Texas. To learn more about my approach to anxiety treatment, click here. If you're asking yourself (or Google) how to know if you have anxiety, please reach out today!
All my best,
Lauren Spencer, M.S., LMFT