Anxiety Symptoms

Feelings of anxiety are a natural part of our fear response.  We need this response to protect us from harm, both physical and psychological. Anxiety generally passes as quickly as the perceived threat, but for many people it is not something that they are able to control. Psychologists call anxiety the “common cold of mental health problems”. However, like the common cold, anxiety can get on top of people if left untreated. The thinking side of anxiety can have people feeling like they are going crazy but this is an example of, not the situation itself, but the anxious person’s over heightened interpretation of that situation.

Intrusive worrying thoughts can take over rational thinking, sometimes at an unconscious level.  I recently heard an interesting story.  It was about a middle aged woman who had been suffering from anxiety symptoms for some period of time without realising it. She first began feeling anxious after being out to dinner one night. She had an upset stomach that night and needed to run quickly to the bathroom. She then started to think about how terrible that situation was. How embarrassed she would have been ff she hadn’t made it to the bathroom in time. She became focused on that senario. To cut a long story short she started to make excuses for not wanting to go out to dinner when friends or family invited her out. She had convinced herself that it was better to stay at home and eat in. She did occasionally go out to coffee with friends. She had it in her mind that that was OK as she hadn’t had any bad experiences just simply going out and having coffee. Problems started though when she couldn’t refuse an engagement for dinner. She would become anxious for hours before going out and would end up going to the bathroom several times just prior to leaving. When she arrived at the dinner destination she immediately sought out where the bathroom facilities were. It was only when she had done this that she felt calm enough to order a meal. She also tended to order small meals, often an entree, instead of enjoying a meal like she used to. She started to think that these thoughts were ruling her life when she was out recently with a friend and they bought hamburgers. Whilst she bought the hamburger she didn’t feel comfortable eating it as she realised that they were driving home immediately after eating. Home was a good 30 minutes away.  Her friend asked her why she wasn’t eating and she decided to make the excuse that she wasn’t really that hungry after all and would eat hers later.  She was actually very hungry but only started eating her burger (now cold) when they were a few minutes from home. This lady was “managing” her anxiety symptoms not treating them. These thoughts developed into a major anxiety for her and she eventually sought help.

Anxiety symptoms and intrusive thoughts can keep building if you don’t challenge them. This person was too anxious at the time to consider a number of rational thoughts such as

  1. If she had just been to the bathroom she should be OK for some period of time before she would physical need to go to the bathroom again. She had no medical issues.
  2. That this had happened to her before and she had managed to get to a facility in time and home safely.

When your thoughts start leading to behaviours that are interfering with normal daily functioning it might be anxiety, and treating your anxiety rather than just managing it will help you get back to enjoying life and not feeling stressed about it.

Anxious thinking can present itself in many different irrational thoughts that start out being quite logical.  Some common themes are; concerns about death or dying, medical concerns from perceived pain or symptoms (that seem real to the person at the time), concerns about losing your job, or concerns others will think they are stupid. People with anxiety often experience lots of  “what if” questions that can become very exhausting. It’s like running a marathon inside your head. Anxious sufferers often say “I just want to stop thinking for a while”.

Essentially the person developing an anxiety problem finds it increasingly difficult not to have worrying thoughts which eventually start impacting on their daily functioning and their ability to relax. They develop sleeping difficulties, whether it be trouble getting to sleep or being wakeful, often in the early hours of the morning. If these issues are starting to concern you it might be time to consult your doctor and a psychologist. Anxiety is very treatable and you can get back to living your life normally.

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