Noticing the signs of anxiety may be a painful process because noticing leads to feeling, and feeling fear too much may lead to being overwhelmed. Numbing out and just surviving is not a way to live, nor is it sustainable. Life is filled with the daily responsibilities of work, school, family and friends, so not recognizing or misunderstanding clinical anxiety can keep dreams muted, hope at bay and a sense of purpose distorted.
Let’s take an objective look at what signs can signal that our anxiety isn’t just a passing experience, but something that may require professional assistance.
Myth: Anxiety is just an emotional issue.
MEANING: Our mind and body are inextricably connected. Western culture fuels living at a much faster and more stressful pace than our body is designed to tolerate. The long-term effects of stress, worry and nervous fatigue can fuel clinical anxiety. The stress response to anxiety makes us release adrenaline; it tenses our muscles and suppresses our digestion. It contributes to health problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, hormone imbalance, digestive problems and all kinds of muscular aches and pains. We often over-ride these physical symptoms and keep pushing through the signs, overlooking the mind-body connection.
Western culture fuels living at a much faster and more stressful pace than our body is designed to tolerate.
The body has a way of getting us to listen when we are not recognizing the cues that emotional and physical symptoms from anxiety produce. Getting a physical, taking time to rest and to heal may seem like a luxury to many, but unaddressed anxiety can lead to further emotional and physical distress.
Myth: All anxiety is bad. At the first sign of it, it needs to be stopped.
MEANING: As noted earlier in this series, all experiences on the anxiety spectrum are not bad. Anxiety is a protective emotion that can help keep us safe and improve our performance at work and at school. It’s also a normal response to transitions and new or difficult experiences. Anxiety becomes maladaptive when it starts to impact work quality, relationships, physical health, emotional well-being and personal faith. Take an inventory of these areas of your life. When one or more are these areas is negatively impacted by anxiety, it is time to re-evaluate, recalibrate and get specialized support.
Myth: There is no way to recognize anxiety. It just comes and goes and anyone who struggles with anxiety is powerless.
MEANING: Knowing and respecting the signs of anxiety is important in identifying when anxiety has shifted from being helpful to unhelpful. When anxiety has subsided or is not super intense, take notice when some of the following signs re-occur frequently:
- Hypervigilance and mistrust
- Panic attacks
- Decreased concentration
- Loss of a sense of the future, hopelessness
- Shame and worthlessness
- Using destructive behaviors to cope: self-harm, alcohol or drug abuse, disordered eating, sex, shopping
- Nightmares, flashbacks
- Emotional overwhelm
- Difficulty in basic self-care
When any of the above are inhibiting our quality of life — mind, body and soul — it might be time to get some additional support.
Myth: Anxiety is simply about too much self-focus and fixation on fears. People need to just let go of their worries and move on.
MEANING: It is hard for anyone in intense pain not to be self-focused. If healing anxiety were as simple as letting go and moving on, than millions would not be suffering from clinical anxiety. Myths like this one devalue the real impact of clinical anxiety and exacerbates the lie of shame. It is important to notice these signs in the struggle with anxiety, as shame can inhibit reaching out and getting help while spiking existing symptoms.
If healing anxiety were as simple as letting go and moving on, than millions would not be suffering from clinical anxiety.
Shame and vulnerability researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It’s therefore no surprise that her research found shame is highly correlated with anxiety, along with: addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying.
Shame does not want to be noticed or named. Noticing and naming the shame behind the struggle with anxiety takes away some of its power and provides space to respond differently, setting a trajectory for a new lens on anxiety when it next surfaces.
Stay tuned for Part IV of this series, Anxiety Resources. Find previous parts, here.
Image via Emily Reiter