You may not think it but anxiety is a normal part of life. It’s understandable to feel anxious or nervous about things like exams, an interview or a presentation (yes, I am speaking from personal experience on all 3!). But the line between normal amounts of anxiety and generalised anxiety disorders is very fine. So, let’s find out when should you get help and what anxiety warning signs you should look out for!
What is ‘normal anxiety’?
Early temporary signals for anxiety are considered normal. These occur when there is an obvious trigger like the examples I gave above. You might get some butterflies in your tummy, feel a bit shaky and even sweaty.
Although it can feel unpleasant you don’t feel that you lose complete control and you can still manage to function – maybe not at your best, but you do: You made it through that exam, you made a few mistakes at the interview but you got through it and the presentations went better than you thought they would initially.
But as the situation progresses and passes, the symptoms subside and in hindsight, you can even laugh or joke about what happened or, better still, learn from the experience for the next time.
So that’s normal anxiety. You are equipped to deal with this – the brain and body will cope.
But when does it become abnormal? Let’s look at the anxiety warning signs to look for that indicate that you should get more professional help!
Anxiety warning signs to look out for
1. Poor sleep
If you’re having more frequent nights of disrupted sleep, then it may be time to consider getting help.
Anxiety stops you from falling asleep easily and leave you feeling constantly tired the next day as you struggle to awaken feeling refreshed. You can also feel that you wake up in the night, for no apparent reason, and your mind is racing, stopping you from falling back to sleep easily.
It’s actually a bit of a vicious circle as you know the thing that will help you most is getting a good night’s sleep. But if you’re feeling threatened, the brain prevents sleep by trying to keep you alert. Poor quality and disrupted sleep are the first signs of a building anxiety.
2. Intense irrational worry
If you find yourself constantly worrying and catastrophising over scenarios you make up in your imagination, then it may be time to get help.
You are more than likely quite safe and happy right now, but your thoughts keep taking you to far-off scenes in your imagination. You may find your friends and family notice this about you, too, as they feel you’re not present with them but are instead worrying about the future.
I often describe anxiety as worrying about something that probably will never happen sometime in the future, taking time away from what you’re doing now.
The mind is extremely powerful. It cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. So, if you’re imagining awful outcomes, your mind thinks they have already happened. This is really the absolute definition of anxiety.
3. Physical Symptoms
The mind affects the body, so look out for prolonged feelings of
- a fast heart rate,
with no other underlying medical cause.
Increased anxiety can also lead to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms and increased inflammatory conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Be honest with yourself (or ask your friends and family): Are you getting a shorter and shorter fuse, are you snapping at the smallest thing and generally feeling grumpy?
This is the anger opt-out clause of the primitive brain. You’re using that as a defence mechanism because you’re feeling under threat. This isn’t sustainable and you should consider getting some help before the situation worsens.
If I see people with road rage, I often think “well there goes a full stress bucket!” It’s normal to get upset and angry occasionally, but if it is spilling over into other parts of your life you need to take some action.
5. Loss of concentration
Ever needed to read the same paragraph over and over again because it’s not going in? Feel like you can’t concentrate in meetings or forget what was said?
You could make an excuse and put it down to tiredness or being bored. But when anxiety levels creep upwards you can lose focus and concentration.
If this is persistent it can decrease your productivity, you lose confidence and it can lower your self-esteem. The knock-on effects are slow and gradual but they build. Tackle this before it’s too late.
Help is here
A lot of people try and cope with their anxiety alone, thinking that it’s normal, that they should be able to cope. We live in a society that craves perfectionism and we are encouraged to cover up our flaws. But the effect that anxiety can have on you can be debilitating. Please look out for these signs in yourself and others and do something about it before it’s too late.
In solution-focused work, we don’t need to analyse the cause of the anxiety. Put all those symptoms and ways of being behind you and focus on a future without it. It can be done.