When Does Anxiety Become an Anxiety Disorder?
It’s normal to feel anxious occasionally. We’re supposed to feel anxious when faced with a legitimate threat or when we’re trying to get something we really want, like a date or a job. In fact, in these situations, a little anxiety is good because it encourages us to prepare and focus. However, anxiety can also be a liability. If the anxiety is too intense, we may not be able to perform at all. Worst of all is you experience anxiety for no apparent reason. Here are some signs that the anxiety you experience is more than an occasional case of nerves.
You are anxious for no apparent reason
Perhaps the biggest difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that normal anxiety has a clear reason, while an anxiety disorder may cause us to feel anxious for no reason at all. If someone threatens you, if you have to give a speech, or if you have to take an important test, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious. If you’re sitting on your couch looking at Instagram and heart is racing, something is wrong. Your mind and body are somehow stuck in the wrong mode.
You experience panic
The other major sign of a panic disorder is panic. This is essentially a disproportionate reaction to some legitimate concern. For example, it’s normal to be anxious before a big test, but if you become so anxious you can’t move or breathe, you’re panicking, which isn’t normal. Sometimes panic attacks also happen for no apparent reason, or they begin because you’re worried about a panic attack. Panic attacks also feed themselves; as you try to force yourself to calm down, they only get worse. These can be extremely frightening, and people experiencing a panic attack often believe it’s a heart attack.
You struggle with obsessive thoughts
Fear is a powerful motivator. We learn lessons–sometimes the wrong lessons–quickly and permanently when strong emotions such as fear are associated with them. If a thought provokes anxiety it becomes a magnet for our attention. That, in turn, provokes even more anxiety, leading to obsessive thinking. It becomes very hard to break out of this cycle of obsessive thinking.
You avoid certain situations
A clear sign of an anxiety disorder is when you start avoiding situation because they make you anxious. This is especially true if you avoid situations that used to be no big deal. If you’re suddenly terrified of driving across town or having dinner with friends, it may indicate an anxiety disorder. As with other symptoms, avoidance often makes the problem worse. When we confront whatever is making us anxious, we typically discover it was no big deal. When we avoid it though, the situation only feels more threatening.
You have irrational fears
Irrational fears or phobias is another sign of an anxiety disorder. These are things you know, rationally, you have no reason to be afraid of, but they nonetheless provoke intense fear. These could be common things like snakes, spiders, or heights–things that might actually hurt you–or more unusual things like fear of the number 13, or even extremely unlikely situations, such as fear of a bridge collapsing as you cross it. These indicate some disconnect between your body and your rational mind.
You worry excessively
Some people legitimately have a lot to worry about. Others don’t have that much to worry about, but they worry anyway. If you are constantly worried about even minor problems or potential problems, you may have a low threshold for anxiety.
You can’t sleep
One of the worst parts of anxiety is that it won’t shut off and it won’t let you sleep. When you should be relaxing and falling asleep, your brain is stuck on high alert, often obsessing over things you did earlier, or problems you might have to deal with the next day. Sometimes you just feel anxious, as if you were waiting for someone to kick the bedroom door down. This leads to a negative cycle, a lack of restful sleep only makes anxiety worse. Inadequate sleep often leads to more obsessive thinking, rumination, and even suicidal thoughts.
You experience physical symptoms
Chronic anxiety often leads to physical symptoms, most commonly digestive problems. Digestion isn’t a priority when your body believes you are in danger. It doesn’t want to waste energy breaking down and assimilating food if there is an immediate threat to attend to. In fact, your body would rather just empty your digestive system completely, which is why you may get stomach cramps when you’re very nervous. If you’re always anxious, your stomach responds accordingly with frequent digestive problems.
Since your body is also reluctant to fight infections when there is an immediate threat, immune function is also compromised by constant anxiety. That makes you more likely to succumb to illnesses like colds and flus.
You have a lot of muscle tension
As with digestive issues, muscle tension is another early physical sign of an anxiety disorder. When faced with a threat, your body gets ready for action. When you feel like you’re always under threat, your muscles stay constantly tense. You will probably notice it most in your neck, jaw, and shoulders. You may clench your fists a lot, or constrict your breathing without being aware. This often leads to headaches or back pain. The good news is that you have quite a bit of control over your skeletal muscles, so you can intentionally relax these muscles, thereby reducing your anxiety.
You experience flashbacks
If you’ve suffered a trauma, such as an accident or an assault, you may have flashbacks to the incident. These are often provoked by some related stimulus, such as driving past the location of an accident, or they occur arbitrarily. These are often intrusive and distracting, and they may lead to panic.
If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety or addiction, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use established, research-backed treatment modalities such as CBT and MBCT, as well as cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.