It’s normal to feel anxious and nervous sometimes. Everyone feels a little anxiety in response to a problem or something that’s upsetting. And many of us have experienced anxiety at one point or another during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But feeling anxious most of the time, day after day, is not normal. When anxiety is extreme, it can interfere with your daily life, making it almost impossible to work, go to school and function.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotional response to a problem or a situation. Anxiety usually involves feeling tense and having worried thoughts. It’s also normal for blood pressure to go up when you feel anxious, because you’re thinking about things that worry or scare you.
If you have anxiety, you might notice these symptoms:
- Avoiding situations that cause anxious thoughts
- Excessive worry about the immediate future and the long-term future
- Racing thoughts about all of the things that can go wrong
- Thoughts about dying because of a specific situation or because of physical symptoms
Anxiety can also involve some physical symptoms that include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Feeling physically agitated
- Increased heart rate and high blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
Anxiety vs. depression
The symptoms of anxiety and depression are similar, and you might even experience both disorders. For example, feeling anxious all of the time can often lead to depression in some people.
It’s common for anxiety to lead to these symptoms of depression:
- A belief that life isn’t worth living
- A preoccupation with death and dying
- Feeling hopeless that nothing will ever change
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
Some people who are depressed also experience these physical symptoms:
- Changes in appetite and eating habits
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Low energy
- Memory problems
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Talking and moving slowly
How to tell if someone has anxiety
Anxiety can be both exhausting and confusing. It’s also common for people to hide anxiety from others. On the outside, they appear comfortable and at ease with life. On the inside, though, they feel intense fear. Look for subtle signs of anxiety.
These clues may be present:
- A preoccupation with details and the need to control all aspects of a situation
- Avoiding going to new places or meeting new people
- Difficulty making decisions
- Overgeneralizing situations and seeing harm or danger in everything
- Preferring safe spaces, avoiding contact and avoiding specific situations
- Unexpected aggression or anger
- Unexpected sadness and tears
Severe anxiety symptoms
Severe anxiety can feel debilitating, and it’s usually easy to recognize when it’s happening. If you’re dealing with severe anxiety, you’ll feel emotional and physical symptoms at the same time.
These symptoms include:
- A sense of unreality as if the situation is a dream
- Chest tightness or pain
- Fast breathing rate and heart rate
- Fear of choking
- Fear of losing control or dying
- Feeling frozen and unable to move
- Overwhelming terror
- Sweating and hot flashes
- Trembling and shaking
- Trouble breathing
What is an anxiety attack?
An anxiety attack is when the anxiety associated with the trigger becomes severe and debilitating with both physical and emotional feelings. A certain situation, fear or pattern of worrying thoughts can trigger an attack.
Common triggers include:
- Chronic pain
- Reminders of traumatic experiences
- Social or stressful situations
If you feel an anxiety attack coming, you may be able to take steps to feel better. It may be possible to stop the attack from happening entirely, or you might be able to make it less severe.
Try these tips:
- Do something relaxing, such as taking a warm bath or meditating.
- Slow your breathing and take deep breaths.
- Tell yourself that you’re feeling anxious but that the feelings will pass.
- Try to feel your feelings and think your thoughts without reacting negatively to them.
Although anxiety can feel overwhelming, there are many ways to calm your mind. Reducing sources of stress is crucial and exercising regularly helps too.
Need additional help managing your anxiety? Learn more about the integrated behavioral and mental health services we offer at Mercy Health.