You probably associate these symptoms with anxiety and fear.
However, there are additional indications of anxiety, such as:
- Perfectionism. Contrary to what you may think, perfectionism does not mean that you think you are perfect, but that you despair of not being good enough. You have the vague idea, even if it’s not entirely conscious, that by doing things “perfectly” you will somehow render yourself immune to vulnerability and danger – in other words, you pursue the illusion of control. Actually, perfectionism is a recipe for procrastination, indecisiveness, and paralysis, and can be a consequence, as well as a cause of, anxiety.
- Impulsivity. For instance, you may find that you’ve suddenly downed a box of cookies or a bottle of wine, or you’ve gone on a shopping spree. You may blurt out mean and unnecessary things to your spouse or coworker, or have a fit of road rage. Yes, impulsivity can be a positive trait at times, such as when you break out of a rigid routine, act on a hunch, and allow your creativity to spring forth. However, anxiety, especially over the long term, can diminish your brain’s ability to act in a calm and rational manner.
- Hoarding. The current COVID-19 crisis and the associated shelter-at-home mandates have revealed this tendency on a national and perhaps global scale. Many people are buying, either online or in person, much more food or household supplies than needed. When we’re anxious, we seek to control what we can control, which in moderation is an adaptive coping mechanism. However, anxiety can lead to a scarcity mentality, and as a result we may empty the toilet paper or dried goods aisle at the grocery store, which is unnecessary and disregards other people’s needs.
- Feeling unreal or “not there”. You may feel as if you’re watching yourself from a distance and as if your thoughts and feelings are not your own. This experience is termed depersonalization. Or you may feel separate from your environment or other people, as if you’re existing in some sort of bubble, or as if the objects around you are two-dimensional or otherwise distorted. This is called depersonalization. Both experiences can be quite disconcerting but are common symptoms of panic attacks (one form of anxiety). One theory is that such symptoms can diminish feelings of anxiety or panic.
- Scattered thoughts and forgetfulness. You may walk into a room and wonder why you went there. You may forget an important phone number. Anxiety takes up a lot of headspace. In addition, anxiety is often associated with disturbed sleep, which messes with your cognition, so this can be a vicious cycle. You can become distracted by your whirling thoughts and may even wonder if you have ADHD.
- Brain fog. You may feel as if you’re not operating on all cylinders. Being in a state of tension floods our body (including our brain) with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin. In the short run, this response is helpful, since it dampens inflammation, raises our blood sugar, gets our heart pumping, and directs our blood to where it needs to go, such as our heart and muscles, so we can flee the perceived enemy. However, over the long term, this physiological state can suppress our immune system, damage our gut, which allows toxins to enter into our blood stream, and actually kill brain cells!
- Perseverating. You may be an overthinker. You may obsess over a situation, insist on knowing all of the details, and not be able to switch to another topic. This may be an attempt by your instinctive mind to have some semblance of control, even if the reality is that you are limited in which you can influence. In the case of problem-solving, pondering an issue results in formulating and executing a potentially successful plan of actions whereas perseveration stays in the problem.
- Fatigue. You may feel wound up and “revved” mentally and emotionally, but just getting yourself out of bed in the morning may seem like a monumental task. Although you may associate anxiety with feeling uncomfortably revved up, there is only so long you can go until your body and mind are exhausted. As mentioned earlier, the detrimental effect of stress on sleep and your body in general can lead you to feeling wiped out.
- Feeling crazy. This symptom is also particularly common during a panic attack. In part, you can blame the cortisol and adrenalin coursing through your veins and your heightened awareness of a perceived danger. In actuality, true “craziness” or psychosis is a break from reality, whereas anxiety and panic are an intense connection with your current reality.
Fear is not in and of itself a bad thing. In fact, fear can be our friend at times. Fear that’s appropriate to our circumstances can lead us to take necessary actions to reduce the danger. For instance, in this age of COVID-19, fear of becoming infected or of transmitting the virus to other people can prompt us to wash our hands regularly, shelter at home, wear a face mask when out and about, and practice frequent disinfecting of doorknobs, kitchen counters, and the like.
There are times when fear extends its intended purpose. For instance, we may allow fear to keep us from making friends, pursuing romantic relationships, leaving an abusive relationship, venturing outside of an unnecessarily rigid and limited lifestyle, trying new activities that interest us, or looking into a more rewarding career path. Sometimes we don’t even acknowledge to ourselves or truly even know when we’ve allowed fear to have the upper hand.
The first step of change is becoming aware of the problem. Perhaps reading the above list of lesser known symptoms of anxiety and considering if and how they play a role in your life will help you to stand up to your fears.