5 ways to tell if your anxiety is a problem

'I’m embarrassed', 'they will hate me', 'I will say the wrong thing', 'what if I can’t do it?', 'why do I overthink the smallest things into a big nightmare?', 'I’m so scared'.

How does anxiety feel to you?

It is normal for us to feel anxious from time to time. Anxiety can take many different forms and is the feeling or set of feelings that we get when we feel apprehension or fear. It is our body’s natural 'flight or fight' response to situations that can be perceived as threatening or unfamiliar.

We all feel anxious from time to time, especially if facing a situation that will have an impact on your life such as a job interview, sitting an exam, or going into hospital, however it can become an issue if this feeling does not go away, or if it is associated with situations that shouldn’t be perceived as negative or that are blown out of proportion.

Anxiety disorders can develop when we overthink negative thoughts, and it will affect our whole being, our emotions, our behaviour, and physical health, and if left untreated can become the beginning of a phobia. A phobia can develop into stress; stress can create habits designed to relieve anxiety, and so it continues. Here are five ways to tell if your anxiety is becoming a problem.

1. You might find yourself feeling afraid for no reason; just the thought of leaving the house might trigger an anxiety attack that prevents you from going out and living a normal, healthy life.

2. You might find yourself avoiding things that once you were able to do quite naturally such as going to the shops or meeting friends for lunch.

3. Overthinking and catastrophising is a common anxiety symptom. Having irrational thoughts about things that 'might' happen but very often never do.

4. You might be finding it difficult to get off to sleep at night, and when you eventually do, wake up in the early hours of the morning feeling anxious for no apparent reason.

5. Feeling annoyed or irritable is a common anxiety trait. You might imagine that other people can see your anxiety and find yourself feeling defensive when they ask if everything is ok. Irritability is often very usual if you haven’t had a good night's sleep in a while.

Anxiety can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as trembling, tense muscles, churning stomach, nausea, headache, diarrhoea, and heart palpitations, and there are lots of techniques you can use to alleviate the symptoms.

Acknowledge the negative thought by writing it down, such as 'I am feeling anxious because...', acknowledging the anxiety and analysing the feeling can help you to put things in perspective. Often, our overthinking and negative thoughts will make you perceive something as more threatening than it really is, making you feel powerless to do anything about it.

Breathing exercises and mindfulness give you something to focus on and have a very calming effect. You will be able to think more clearly after completing one of these exercises, and breathing deeply and calmly will cause your entire body to relax. Sit or stand in a comfortable position. You can close your eyes or keep them open, whatever is comfortable for you. Now, focus on your breathing and feel the sensation of your stomach as it rises and falls as you breathe in and out. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing, and do this for about three minutes. With practice, you will be able to do this in any anxious or stressful moment to calm you down and rationalise your thoughts.

Identifying what triggers your anxiety will help you to understand it better, and also help you to control it. Ask yourself, in an anxious moment, 'what is causing me to feel anxious?'. You might find that certain situations or people cause you more stress and anxiety than others. Whilst you focus on trying to understand why the situations cause you to feel like that, you can start to prepare for these situations or encounters in advance.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21
Written by Alison Isaacs, Anxiety Counsellor
Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21

My name is Alison Isaacs and I am a practising Psychotherapeutic Counsellor specialising in Anxiety. As an integrative counsellor I can use a variety of techniques to suit the client’s individual needs. Including: Person Centred and Psychodynamic approaches. I also draw on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques.

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