Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time – in new social situations or before some type of performance-based activity, like doing a presentation at work. But, how do you know when normal anxiety becomes problem anxiety, and it’s time to seek professional help for anxiety? Anxiety ranges along a continuum, from mild to severe. Normal, healthy anxiety involves worry and anxiousness felt in response to everyday life stressors. Healthy anxiety helps us by giving us the motivation to do what needs to be done and helps protect us from danger. You don’t want to take work home over the weekend, but anxiety about your boss’ reaction on Monday morning motivates you to do it anyway. You don’t want to take the time to see the doctor about that lump on your back, but anxiety about the possibility of serious illness motivates you to call for an appointment. These anxious feelings, though uncomfortable, are generally experienced at an intensity level proportionate to the stressor that triggered them, and they fade away when the stressor is eliminated. People don’t always experience anxiety symptoms in the same way or feel anxiety’s physical symptoms in the same parts of their bodies.
Some of the ways people experience anxiety symptoms include:
- Muscle tension (ex: stiff, sore head, neck, shoulders, and back)
- Headache Feeling nervous or “keyed up”
- Feeling tense, irritable, or “on edge”
- Small, repetitive movements (ex: moving your feet and legs)
- Tensing muscles and holding them tensed (ex: jaw clenching, tooth grinding)
- Shortness of breath Increased heart rate Hot flashes or chills
- Shaking or trembling Nausea (and other forms of gastrointestinal distress)
- Tingling sensations
- Feeling a general sense of dread
- Feeling fearful of bad things happening in the future
- Numbness Sweating
- Dizziness Feeling detached from reality
- Feeling detached from your body
- Chest pain Heart palpitations
- Feeling like you’re choking
- Feeling afraid you’re having a heart attack or dying
- Feeling afraid you’re going crazy or losing control
As we move from the top of the list to the bottom, the physical symptoms of anxiety become more and more intense and unpleasant. When people’s anxiety symptoms manifest in these more severe forms, it often starts interfering their ability to function in daily life. When anxiety prevents people from doing the things they want and need to do in life, that’s when it’s time for them to seek professional help for anxiety. Contrary to popular belief, anxiety disorders are very common. Most common mental health problem among American women and second most common mental health problem among American men. Approximately 15% of the U.S. population, or 40 million adults, suffer with an anxiety disorder Nearly a quarter of the adult population will suffer from an anxiety disorder during their lifetime When anxiety exceeds the normal range, it can manifest as a number of anxiety disorders: Generalized anxiety, Panic attacks, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Specific phobias, Social anxiety/ Agoraphobia, and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Written By: Autumn Schulze, MA, LMFT
Much of this information comes from “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. This workbook is an excellent resource for anyone experiencing significant anxiety.
Autumn Schulze, MA, LMFT Is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Indianapolis, IN. She has specialized training in Emotion-Focused Therapy for couples and has extensive experience working with children and families. Her passion is to help distressed individuals and couples find the emotional and relational healing God intends for them. Her desire is to see households restored to health and happiness. Contact Autumn Schulze to discuss your situation with her.