There’s nothing as sneaky as anxiety; it catches you off guard, subtly infiltrates your daily life, and inserts itself into places it doesn’t belong – like in relationships, when you are at a social event, or when you’re trying to sleep. Most of us live our lives unable to identify the warning signs of an anxiety or panic attack.
So what exactly does anxiety feel like? While there are some universal signs of anxiety – like sweaty palms, tight neck muscles and a racing heartbeat — not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. The key is to become familiar with how your body expresses anxiety and how it asks you for help.
These are some of the hallmark signs of anxiety:
It feels like a wet blanket. Anxiety takes the fun out of any and all activities. When you are anxious, you are likely ruminating about the past or worrying about the future – anything but engaging in the present moment. And when you aren’t fully present, life can feel like it’s passing you by.
It feels like someone let the air out. A classic sign of anxiety is the unsettling feeling of breathlessness. No matter how hard you try, you can’t get a deep breath. Continued shallow breathing can even lead to a panic attack. Over the long term, chronic oxygen deprivation (known as hypoxia) can contribute to a myriad of chronic diseases. This is why deep breathing can be so transformational.
It feels like you are in a fog. Brain fog is real – and it likes to hang out with anxiety. When your brain is overstimulated by racing thoughts, it is no wonder that you can’t remember what your spouse said yesterday or even what you are doing right now.
It feels like your heart is beating out of your chest. A classic sign of anxiety is an accelerated or “pounding” heartbeat. This symptom can be particularly concerning to some, who may believe that they are having a heart attack. While this is simply a classic symptom of anxiety, it shouldn’t be part of your daily life (note: you should never ignore any concerning heart symptoms and always get this checked out by a doctor).
It feels like you are running in place. Many people who struggle with anxiety feel as though they are working hard, but accomplishing little. Often, these individuals are not taking the time to pat themselves on the back for accomplishments – no matter how minor. In our busy world, it is easy to get caught up going full speed from one task to the next, and never feeling like your accomplishments are adequate.
It feels like a tense knot. Tight muscles – especially in the neck and shoulders – are a sign of anxiety.
It feels emotionally painful. Adult anxiety may be a vestige of unresolved childhood trauma. The brain does a pretty good job of hiding this past pain, but the trouble is that it still lurks in the dark recesses of your brain, affecting your daily life – often in the form of anxiety.
It feels lonely. When you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, a common knee-jerk reaction is to isolate yourself from others to decrease sensory input. However, this isolation may eventually lead to loneliness – especially if you believe that you are alone in your fight against anxiety.
It feels like you are on edge. Restlessness, feeling like you can’t sit still, or frequent outbursts are all symptoms of anxiety. In actuality, the nervous system is on edge, ready to jump into action at the slightest provocation.
It feels scary. Most of all, anxiety can feel scary, especially because it can come on suddenly and utterly take over the reins.
If you experience any or all of these signs of anxiety, you aren’t alone. Anxiety is part of the human experience – although some of us experience it more than others. It is estimated that full-blown anxiety disorders affect 12 percent of all Canadians per year.
Even though anxiety disorders are relatively common, you don’t need to suffer from frequent bouts of anxiety any longer. At Bhatia Psychology Group, we recognize that anxiety disorders represent a fundamental break between the mind, body, and spirit. Through individual therapy, we can work with you to correct emotional imbalances, reset harmful thought patterns, and calm the mind.