Anxiety symptoms should never be ignored. They are there for a reason and we need to pay close attention to the messages they are sending. Most of us experience anxiety and fear as a kind of flashing red light that warns: “Beware! Danger! ” But we may need to decode that signal and consider what it’s trying to tell us. What is the actual nature of the danger? Is it past or present, real or imagined? Are we feeling anxious because we are boldly charting new territory, or because we’re about to do something stupid? Are we truly off track?
For example if we are in the middle of trying to make a major decision in our life, such as changing jobs, leaving a relationship or moving house, perhaps we shouldn’t rush into a particular course of action.
However, if fear is always a legitimate warning signal, why would we ever bother to go for as health check, go for a job interview, speak up when we feel passionate about something, or leave a toxic relationship. There are times when we need to push past our dread and act – EVEN THOUGH OUR OUR HEART IS POUNDING IN OUR CHEST!
Sometimes we might need to identify the actual sources of fear – when we fear speaking up to a demanding boss who asks us yet again, to work late, is it due to an underlying, ancient terror of speaking up to your father when you were a child?
The 5 Categories of Anxiety symptoms
Anxiety symptoms fall into five categories: physical symptoms, anxious thoughts, behavioural symptoms, emotional symptoms and interpersonal symptoms:
1. Physical Anxiety Symptoms
People with anxiety disorders tend to over-monitor their physical sensations. At worst, they can worry that their physical symptoms of anxiety are signs of serious illness.
Anxiety symptoms are part of our evolved fight/flight/freeze response. An animal threatened by a predator needs to have an increased heart rate for running away for a safe place or for fighting for its life. It needs a blood flow increase to its large muscles and less blood flow to its extremities so that it is less likely to bleed heavily if it loses part of a limb in a fight. Just like our animal ancestors, we feel our hearts thumping and we can get tingling or numbness in our hands and feet. Our goosebumps are related to making the hair stand on end which makes animals look larger and scarier, and thereby discourages predators. (Think of a pet cat with its fur standing on end when the neighbour’s cat invades its territory!)
People who are nervous in social situations often fear blushing. It is believed that blushing evolved because it helped with social cohesion e.g., when we communicate embarrassment or shame it most often provokes caring in others. If we worry a lot we often have problems with muscle aches and tension particularly in shoulders, neck and jaw. And some of us bite our nails – no evolutionary advantage but a common nervous habit!
2. Cognitive Anxiety Symptoms (thoughts)
People with anxiety tend to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening, but most importantly they underestimate their ability to cope if something negative did happen. For example, they underestimate their ability to cope if a relationship ends or if they lose their job. Not surprisingly then anxiety often causes people to lose confidence in themselves. Their thinking tends to become more all-or-nothing or black and white. Thoughts seem to get stuck and wont shift however hard they try to distract themselves. People who have social anxiety often worry that their anxiety will be obvious to others or that people will judge them as boring, stupid, or unattractive.
3. Behavioural Anxiety Symptoms
Avoidance is the number 1 behavioural symptom of anxiety. People avoid situations and actions they fear will trigger anxiety or where they’ll be unable to escape. They may overcompensate for anxiety by working extra hard which can lead to workaholism. Some types of anxiety involve both over-checking and under-checking. For example, someone with an eating disorder who is anxious about their weight might sometimes weigh themselves very frequently or sometimes avoid weighing themselves, or check their appearance in mirrors a lot or totally avoid catching sight of their reflection in a mirror or glass.
4. Emotional Anxiety Symptoms
All kinds of emotions can be mixed into the experience of anxiety including anger, irritability, sadness and hopelessness.
5. Interpersonal Anxiety Symptoms
There may be many different interpersonal anxiety symptoms. We may need more reassurance especially from those close to us. We might fear becoming dependent or incompetent and this has relationship implications. We might snap at partners or other family due to anxiety-induced irritability. Some people might avoid sex because the physical sensations such as increased heart rate and body temperature, feel too similar to symptoms of anxiety.
Need some more advice and support?
If you would like some help in order to deal with your anxiety symptoms, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!