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11 Things You Might Not Realize Can Be Signs Of Anxiety

Even though it’s common and highly treatable, the vast majority of anxiety sufferers go without treatment — often times because they don’t even know something’s wrong.

Think of the word “anxiety” and you might picture someone having a panic attack: heart racing, breath caught in the throat, eyes straining to hold back tears.


That’s true for some, but anxiety can come in much subtler forms and affect a huge number of people — especially in stressful times like the one we’re living in.

In fact, anxiety — a general term for a range of conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety, and more — affects an estimated 30% of American adults at some point in their lives, according to data cited by the National Institute of Mental Health.

But even though it’s common and highly treatable, the vast majority of anxiety sufferers go without treatment, often times because they don’t even know something’s wrong.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Anxiety’s tricky like that — it can creep into your life in ways you might think are just stress, but actually are symptoms of a condition that could be helped by medication, therapy, or even certain lifestyle changes.

“Anxiety has a diagnostic set of criteria,” psychologist and trauma specialist Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais tells BuzzFeed. “But much like anything — love, heartbreak, depression — it manifests uniquely at times in individuals.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope but aren’t sure why, here are some sneaky anxiety symptoms you might want to look out for so you can start exploring ways to feel better. (Just remember that BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only and are no substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.)

1. You’re always busy, but you can never seem to get shit done.

You often find yourself running around your apartment, starting a million chores, but you can never get any real work done. Ugh. New York City psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma tells BuzzFeed that’s because anxiety can often manifest as a lot of “business.” She says, “[You’re] trying to get stuff done, but somehow after an entire day, [you] may have little to show for it. This could also be due to ADD, but poor time management, low productivity [and] difficulty prioritizing can be a sign of worsening anxiety.”

2. You’re deluged by catastrophic existential thoughts.

Yes, we’re living in truly nightmarish times, but “catastrophizing” — the technical term for thinking obsessively that something is worse than it really is — can be a sign that you’re actually suffering from an anxiety disorder (rather than just needing a break from the news). Dr. Bais says that thoughts like, What's the point, I can never do this, I'm in trouble, Something is seriously not right, and Do whatever, nothing matters anyway are ones to watch out for, especially if they’re coming in a sequence rather than just as one-offs.

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

3. You’re easily startled.

Are you feeling excessively jumpy? You should pay attention to those feelings. According to a 2008 study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, anxiety sufferers can have a heightened startle response, particularly when they’re mentally stressed (*ahem* catastrophizing), which basically means you’re likely to freak out at the slightest stimulation if you’re wrapped up in your own thoughts.

4. Your stomach is upset but your doctor can’t figure out why.

You don’t have food poisoning, irritable bowel syndrome, or the stomach flu, so why is your stomach always upside down? Audrey Gruss, founder of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, tells BuzzFeed that gastrointestinal upset is often linked with anxiety. “People often talk about stress manifesting in your stomach, and anxiety works the same,” she says. “It can worsen symptoms of abdominal cramps and pain and make you feel sick to your stomach.”

On top of that, anxiety might also make it harder for you to recover from illnesses that have nothing to do with anxiety. A 2007 study found that for anxious people, having the stomach flu can actually trigger irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic condition with symptoms including stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. The study’s authors found that because anxious people have a hard time slowing down and resting when they start to feel sick — what’s called “all-or-nothing behavior” — a condition like the stomach flu, which usually clears up quickly for non-anxious people who don’t push themselves so hard, can later become a serious, long-term illness.

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5. You’re a perfectionist.

Perfectionism doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder — you might just be really attentive to detail and like to do a good job. But if your perfectionism prevents you from trying new things because you’re afraid of failing, or causes you to avoid certain situations or tasks because you don’t want to make a mistake, it might be linked to an anxiety disorder. Feelings of shame, inferiority, and constant self-criticism are all part of that perfectionism package.

And, related: a 2017 report noted that perfectionists who have anxiety often reject therapeutic treatment because they perceive it as a sign of failure, which bumps uncomfortably against that nagging fear of making a mistake. Sound like you? Take a deep breath and consider asking for help.

6. Everyone around you is getting on your nerves.

We all get into moods where our friends and coworkers drive us up the wall, but feeling like you could go off at any second is another matter. New York City-based psychologist Dr. Lauren Appio tells BuzzFeed that the fight/flight/freeze response is heightened in anxiety sufferers, and, she says, since “‘fight’ is another side to our ‘flight’ may also find that you are more impatient and easily annoyed by others [if you have anxiety].” Dr. Bais says that feelings of rage, hatred, and revenge are common, too.

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7. You cannot make a single goddamn decision.

Getting way too emotionally invested in every decision you make can be a manifestation of anxiety, according to Dr. Appio. She says, “Especially when each option you consider comes with some loss or downside, or someone else will be unhappy no matter what you do, you get stuck bouncing back and forth between your options without taking steps forward.”

8. You keep getting sick and you don’t know why.

You don’t work with kids or in a hospital, so why are you sick all the time? Well, feeling rundown, having unexplained aches and pains, and experiencing frequent and chronic colds are all part of the anxiety roller coaster, according to Dr. Varma.

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9. You can’t sleep, and it’s not because you were staring at your phone right before bed.

There are lots of reasons it’s hard for us to get a good night’s sleep: blue light from our phones, tablets and laptops, restless pets hogging the bed, irritating upstairs neighbors (seriously, what are they doing up there?!). But according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety can cause sleeping problems AND new research suggests sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder. Pretty lose-lose.

So in order to get a better night’s rest, the ADAA suggests meditating before bed, finding a kind of exercise you enjoy and doing it regularly, and turning your clock away from you — looking at it in the middle of the night will only exacerbate your anxious feelings.

10. You’re having random chills or hot flashes.

You know you’re not getting sick and you don’t have any issues with your hormones, but you’re still having unexplained chills or hot flashes. Coupled with some of the other traits on this list, those symptoms could suggest it’s time to ask your doctor about generalized anxiety disorder. (Also: Isn’t the human body wild?)

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11. You feel like you suck at life.

Isn’t this the worst feeling — thinking you’re a horrible friend, family member, partner, or employee? Ugh. First of all, you’re not. And second, according to Dr. Appio, that feeling of burnout — like you just can’t do anything right — may be caused by an anxiety disorder (and doesn’t reflect who you really are).

And by the way: This list is for informational purposes and definitely not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.

But if some of the things in this list were familiar, you might want to look into ways to take care of yourself. SO, here are some quick resources:

You might want to learn more about starting therapy, since pretty much everyone can benefit from talking to a professional.

You can learn more about anxiety disorders here.

Here are little ways to be less anxious in general and here are some self-care tips.

And if you need to talk to someone immediately, the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. A list of international suicide hotlines can be found here.

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