There’s only one way out of the tunnel: taking back control
Nearly 40% of Europeans suffer from anxiety or depression, with only about a third of the cases receiving the therapy or medication needed. In other words, if you happen to be in Europe, wherever you look you’ll see anxious, depressed people.
Maybe you are part of that percentage but haven’t yet admitted it to yourself. Many of the symptoms are similar to those experienced when dealing with stressful situations. So how can we know if we are suffering from anxiety? Trembling hands, excessive sweating, bumbling attempts to speak… are these simply signs of tension? Or are they symptoms of a deeper condition?
One way to find out is by a process of elimination. Let’s say you have a big exam in half an hour and you’re trembling because you only started studying that morning. Stress. It’s your first day of work as a waiter; you’ve been there ten minutes and you already have 35 orders. Stress. You haven’t smoked for two hours and you’re bouncing off the walls. Addiction.
Your entrance exams are six months away and you’ve already given up. You cry yourself to sleep. You already know it’s going to be a disaster, but you study everyday to ensure that your failure is complete – the macabre delight of the self-fulfilling prophecy. In short, your life is ruined. ANXIETY.
Anxiety persists despite an absence of stressful factors. And the following conditions are all symptoms:
1. Excessive worry. This is the hallmark of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – the broadest type of anxiety. It results in a disproportionate level of worry about everyday things to the extent that anxious thoughts interfere with daily life, accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue.
2. Sleep deficit. An inability to fall or stay asleep is associated with a range of health conditions, both physical and psychological. It’s relatively normal to have trouble sleeping when you’ve got a big job interview the next day. However, when the insomnia is chronic and you lie awake worrying about nothing and everything at the same time it might be a sign of an anxiety problem.
3. Irrational fears. These are not associated with GAD but with a specific type of situation or thing that causes overwhelming anxiety. Some fears – like crowds, confined spaces and animals – are so out of proportion that they are classed as phobias. The frustrating and disabling nature of phobias leads to the sort of anxiety that can be crippling.
4. Muscle tension. Muscles that are in a constant state of tension are usually associated with anxiety disorders. Pain in the jaw (from clenching it in your sleep) and chronic neck problems are indicators that you may be among that 40% mentioned at the start of the article.
5. Chronic indigestion. Anxiety arises in the mind, but is often then exhibited in the body through a variety of physical symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach cramps, bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea all contribute to a portrait of digestive tract anxiety.
6. Stage fright. Most people worry about addressing large audiences or stepping into the spotlight, which is why public speaking is one of the most common fears in the world. But some of us take this fear to such an extreme that it cripples them and no amount of coaching or practice will alleviate it. Psychologists call it social anxiety disorder.
7. Panic attacks. One of the worst symptoms of anxiety. It comes without warning and manifests itself with an aggressive feeling of impotence accompanied by breathing difficulties, a pounding heart, tingling or numb hands, sweating, weakness and dizziness. It stretches out in front of the sufferer like a tunnel and the only way to get out is by taking back control.
8. Flashbacks. Some studies suggest that people with social anxiety can suffer from PTSD-like flashbacks to painful experiences like being publicly ridiculed.
9. Perfectionism. Anxiety and an obsessive mind-set usually go hand in hand. If you judge yourself all the time and constantly worry about making mistakes or falling short then you should probably sound the anxiety alarm.
10. What if? Self-doubt usually bests people with anxiety. Sufferers constantly ask themselves questions such as ‘What if I’m gay?’, ‘What if I’m not?’, ‘What if I lose my job?’ or ‘What if they force me to stay another day in this awful office?’ These doubt attacks are especially prevalent when the question is unanswerable.
Fortunately, the question of how to defeat that devil, anxiety, has many solutions and they all begin by identifying the problem. To help you take this vital first step, here is an anxiety disorder quiz posted by anxietycentre.com.