Recognising when anxiety has become a problem: signs and symptoms

Anxiety is a natural part of the human experience, helping us in navigating life's ups and downs, and keeping us on our toes in potentially dangerous situations. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, persistent, and overwhelming, it can deeply affect our mental and physical well-being, as well as our relationships and overall quality of life. Recognising when anxiety has gone from being manageable to problematic is vital for seeking the right support and intervention. Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different, and symptoms vary too. Here are some signs and symptoms to be mindful of. 


Physical symptoms

When experiencing anxiety or fear, our body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. While beneficial in certain circumstances, this response can also lead to physical manifestations with a variety of physical symptoms, such as heightened heart rate and increased sweating, trembling, or shaking, dry mouth, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, dizziness, nausea, and muscle tension (ref The Mayo Clinic). Anxiety may sometimes lead to panic attacks. These physical symptoms of anxiety can be distressing and may mimic symptoms of other health conditions, making it important to seek medical evaluation to rule out underlying issues.

Psychological symptoms

In addition to worry and fear, anxiety can manifest in a range of psychological symptoms, including irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli. You may also experience feelings of dread, impending doom, or a sense of being out of control, further contributing to your distress. Anxiety may eventually lead to depression. 

Persistent worry and fear

One of the key indicators that anxiety has become a problem is persistent worry and fear that seem disproportionate to the situation at hand. You may have racing thoughts, uncontrollable over-thinking, trouble concentrating, feelings of dread or panic. You may find yourself constantly ruminating over potential future threats or worst-case scenarios, even when there is no imminent danger. This chronic state of apprehension can lead to exhaustion, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and dissociation.

Loss of interest and engagement

As anxiety saps your energy and enthusiasm, you may find yourself withdrawing from activities and interests that once brought you joy and fulfilment. Hobbies, passions, and interests that once gave your life meaning may now feel dull and meaningless. You might feel like you’ve lost your spark. This loss of engagement can further erode your sense of purpose, leaving you feeling without direction. 

Avoidance behaviours

When anxiety starts to take over, you may engage in avoidance behaviours to escape or relieve your distress. You might find yourself avoiding situations, places, or activities that trigger anxiety, as well as backing out of social plans or responsibilities. While avoidance may provide temporary relief, it reinforces anxiety in the long run and can lead to social isolation and difficulty in functioning.

Impact on daily functioning

When anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it interferes with your ability to carry out your daily responsibilities, such as relationships, work, or self-care, it becomes problematic. This can manifest as disruptions in sleep or insomnia, changes in appetite patterns, difficulties in performing tasks at home, work, or school, and challenges in maintaining relationships. You may also experience a decline in performance, productivity, and motivation as anxiety consumes your mental and emotional resources.

Impaired social and occupational functioning

Anxiety can significantly impact social and occupational functioning, leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, as well as impairments in daily performance, or academic or professional performance. You may avoid social situations or work-related tasks due to fear of judgement, criticism, or failure, further exacerbating your anxiety and perpetuating a cycle of avoidance and distress. 

Undermining the sense of meaning and purpose

Existential anxiety can challenge your sense of meaning and purpose in life, leaving you feeling lost or disconnected. If this existential crisis persists and leads to a sense of emptiness or existential despair, it can significantly impact your overall life satisfaction and mental health.

How can counselling help?

Recognising when anxiety has become a challenge is an important first step towards seeking support and taking steps to care for your mental health. If you find yourself dealing with persistent and overwhelming anxiety symptoms that impact your daily life and well-being, reaching out to a mental health professional for evaluation and guidance can make a significant difference. Remember, you are not alone, and help is available.
If you found this article useful, you may wish to read my following article: How counselling can help when anxiety has become a problem.

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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Guildford GU5 & London SW7
Written by Carolina Parker Frohlich, Psychotherapist•Counsellor•Coach•MBACP•Clinical PGDip•EMDR
Guildford GU5 & London SW7

I have more than twenty-five years experience empowering people to overcome symptoms of adversity: anxiety, depression, stress, burnout, grief, trauma, PTSD, relationship conflict, personality disorders, mood disorders, ADHD, low self-esteem and much more.

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