Everyone can relate to feeling anxious from time to time. Whether this is categorized as good anxiety, or bad anxiety is the question.

It’s common, and quite frankly, useful to experience anxiety when you’re facing a large decision, such as buying a house, applying for a promotion at work, or progressing further in your relationship. Good anxiety can keep you motivated, energized, and alert in situations that may bring about feelings of insecurity, or stress.

The purpose for anxiety’s existence is to help keep us safe. The most common example used to help illustrate anxiety’s benefits points back to survival from our cave people days when we were more susceptible to be eaten by bears. We responded with either running away from the bear, or fighting back against the bear. This is called the “fight-or-flight” response. What we now know is that there is also the response of “freeze,” when your body locks up all together.

Bad anxiety can create this overwhelming illusion that you’re living in a state of constant fear. Maybe you’re left with those same feelings of being stuck, or frozen. Having too much anxiety can make it difficult to think clearly. Often times, folks who identify as anxious can experience feelings of panic when they are unable to escape the never ending loop of self-defeating thoughts. Living with anxiety can feel tiring, and at times, may even create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Playing the “what-if” game with yourself may feel like second nature.

So how do I know if what I’m feeling is really anxiety and not just stress?  Here are some ways to recognize the signs of anxiety:

 

Muscle tension and physical pain

Anxiety can be carried in your body, whether this looks like having a sore neck, a tight back, or achy muscles all over. Sometimes anxiety can even create stomach aches, nausea, and headaches when you’re feeling really especially overwhelmed with stressful thinking.

 

Fidgeting and restlessness

When anxiety hits, it may be extremely difficult to sit still. Remember the “fight-or-flight” response? This may be the time that your body is telling you to run from the bear. Your hands and legs may feel restless, and you might even find yourself pacing back and forth because your body needs to be in movement.

 

Sleepless in Seattle

Anxious thinking can keep you from feeling like you’re able to get a good night’s rest, and you may even find yourself staying up all night running through scenarios from five years prior, or five years into the future. What’s even worse, you may have an easy time falling asleep, but then find yourself waking up at three in the morning with your mind racing with things you need to mark off your to-do list at work the next day.

 

You’re tired all the time

Anxiety can drain your energy. You may feel like you just ran a marathon, and want to head straight to your bed before lunch time on particular days. Anxiety has a way of taking a lot out of your body, and your capacity may be very low to socialize with others by the time your day is over.

 

Irritability

You know what’s probably not the most helpful advice from friends, or loved ones during this time of panic and stress? “Just relax.” Easier said than done. It’s can feel pretty hard to calm yourself down when your body is convincing you that you’re supposed to be running away from the bear that’s chasing down the block. You may find yourself feeling more agitated with yourself and with others when you also feel out of control with your anxiety.

Anxiety has a way of making you feel as if you are out of control, but seeking out support for your anxiety is one thing that is in your control! Therapy can assist you in finding tools to lower your stress and anxiety, and can help you feel more in the driver’s seat when it comes to your anxiety.

Rachel Frank, MA, LMHC

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