An estimated 275 million (4% of the global population) people suffer from anxiety disorders.
Are you one of them?
Here are the common signs.
|SYMPTOMS: PERSISTENT & SEVERE||EXAMPLES|
|Anxious Thoughts||“I’m losing control”|
|Anxious Predictions||“I’m going to fumble my words”|
|Anxious Beliefs||“Only weak people get anxious”|
|Avoidance of Feared Situations||Driving|
|Avoidance of Activities that Elicit Sensations Similar to Those Experienced When Anxious||Exercise|
|Subtle Avoidances (behaviours that aim to distract the person)||Talking more during periods of anxiety|
|Safety Behaviours (habits to minimize anxiety and feel safer)||Always having a cell phone on hand to call for help|
|Excessive Physical Reactions Relative to the Context||Heart racing and feeling short of breath in response to being at the mall|
Anxiety is the most prevalent form of mental illness, the common cold of the brain, if you will.
So for anxiety sufferers out there, how does one know if their anxiety symptoms are the new normal or something to investigate?
The above list is from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Canada) and should give you some good clues.
The key here is to recognize when a sign is severe and persistent. We all get anxiety, it’s normal and actually quite useful to our survival.
It’s when it happens all the time for inappropriate reasons, that’s when we need to see what’s behind it
If you are unsure about whether your signs are severe and/or persistent, always visit your healthcare practitioner for medical advice.
The CAMH elaborates, citing “consistent avoidance and difficulty managing daily tasks and/or distress related to these tasks” as one of the signs that someone’s anxiety has entered the disorder zone.
So, what can this avoidance and difficulty look like for someone?
For me, in addition to the entire symptom chart, this was the number one sign. Avoidance of and difficulty managing daily tasks. Big time.
Let’s return to the mid-1990’s for a second. I was commuting to my second year of university from my parent’s house in a 1987 Japanese import.
It had a standard transmission, a manual choke and a hatred for the cold. It also had a removable Pioneer stereo that added about 8 pounds to my backpack.
I would drive into the city, window cracked, holding a cigarette in my left hand while I shifted gears with my right. Ace of Base blaring, the closer I got to the school the more panicked and freaked out I would become.
When I finally made it to parking lot C, I would anxiously predict that everyone would be staring at me as I locked my door and scurried to class like a scared little mouse carrying a heavy stereo.
By the time I made it to class, I would be sweating, red faced and filled with inexplicable anxiety.
My physical reactions to the situation were off the chart and were deeply embarrassing.
I was just a kid going to class. Why was I reacting like I just got caught breaking into a bank? It was torture sitting through those hours. I didn’t learn a thing.
As winter arrived, things got worse. I was no longer making it to class. I was making it to the parking lot. Sometimes. I would park for a while, berating myself for my cowardice before I took off to the nearest coffee shop.
There, I would smoke cigarettes and drink coffee flavoured sugar while pretending to do school work.
I adopted this strategy as a “safety behaviour”, removing myself from the “danger” of school. Ironically it was probably the least safe thing I could have done, but I did it anyway.
Nothing about my behaviour made sense. Even while it was happening, I knew that my behaviour did not make sense.
My avoidance had become consistent, excessive and irrational.
Ok, so I’d always been shy and self-conscious, but to abandon the opportunity to learn in a place that I had worked so hard to get into??
There was no reason for it. Things weren’t perfect in my life but so what? Nothing justified the ridiculous amount of anxiety I was experiencing
I had all the freedom and choices a 20 year old could want, and yet I felt like I was navigating the halls of Riker’s Island, every time I went to class.
I thought I was going crazy and it terrified me. Nothing was fun or relaxed anymore, as the anxiety of the university situation started to bleed into every other area of my life.
Sometime in the spring of that year, I decided to try and get help and made that ever fateful appointment with my (newly acquired) family doctor. I couldn’t ignore the signs anymore.
I could no longer function without struggle and I needed help.
This was to be my first attempt at finding out what mysterious problem was destroying my life. Did I find the answer at the doctor’s office? Nope, not even close.
Was I right in seeking help at this time? Absolutely. I recognized the signs and knew that something needed fixing.