Sometimes it can be hard to know if you have anxiety, especially if it is something you have never experienced before. In this post I'll help to bring some clarity and awareness to this common emotion!
Anxiety is a common emotion that many people feel at different times in their lives. Some people have anxiety disorders while others have anxiety related to certain aspects of their lives. I often hear people ask me “am I anxious?” and “do I have anxiety?”
Sometimes it’s hard to know if you have anxiety, especially if you’ve never had it before. Or at least you thought you didn’t. Anxiety can be caused by many things. It can be tough to know if you’re anxious, if you’re depressed, or if you’re worried and/or nervous.
One way to tell if you’re anxious is to pay attention to your body. Anxiety affects the nervous system, and our bodies respond to anxiety in different ways. The important thing for you to know is that if you listen to your body, it will tell you if you’re feeling anxious.
Anxiety can be felt on a physical level. It’s common for people experiencing anxiety to have chest pain, constricted throats, knots in their stomachs, or muscle tension. There are many ways to tell if you’re anxious. Here are some symptoms of anxiety:
As you can see, many of the symptoms of anxiety are felt on a body level. There are other signs that you might be anxious, however. If you’re worried, tense, or afraid, you may be feeling anxious. Anxiety on its most basic level is a response to a threat. Often when we’re anxious we go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This is a basic animal instinct to protect oneself from a perceived threat. Anxiety can often be helpful to us, after all, it helps us to survive.
Everyone is different, so it’s up to you to pay attention to how you instinctively react. Take stock of how you respond to situations that cause you distress. How do you handle worries and fears? What do you notice about yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed, worried, or afraid?
When trying to answer the question “am I anxious?” it is helpful to do a body scan. Start either from the top-down, with your head and scan all the way to your feet, or the reverse from the bottom-up. As you pay attention to each part of your body you’ll notice physical sensations that could give you clues as to whether or not you’re experiencing anxiety.
Anxiety is also experienced psychologically and emotionally. If you’re feeling a sense of panic about leaving the house, you’re probably experiencing anxiety. Maybe you feel dread about going to work or engaging in social situations. Perhaps you feel like everyone else is watching you waiting for you to make a mistake and you live in fear of that happening.
It’s normal for people to not know if they’re experiencing anxiety. Often anxiety can be mistaken for physical illness or pain such as in the form of headaches or gastric issues. These can occur as a manifestation of anxiety. If you’re wondering if you’re anxious, take a moment to think about whether or not your ability to live a well-balanced life is being impacted by something that you can’t quite put your finger on. Here are a few ways that anxiety can affect your life in a negative way:
I know that it might be hard to tell if you have feelings of anxiety, so it’s difficult to know whether the long-lasting feeling that’s causing distress is anxiety or something else. You’re not alone. Many people don’t know that they’re anxious. But if any of this sounds familiar, I want you to take stock of how your worries, fears, and signs of what could be anxiety impact your life.
One of the ways to answer the question “do I have anxiety?” is to explore your experiences in therapy to see if you are struggling with an anxiety disorder. A therapist who specializes in anxiety and anxiety disorders will be able to help you figure out whether you’re experiencing anxiety or not.
Sometimes when you feel overwhelmed you’re actually feeling anxious. You might be experiencing a panic attack and not even know it. Panic attacks come on suddenly. You can feel a lot of fear that triggers intense physical reactions to a non-existent threat. Some symptoms of panic attacks include:
Not everyone who has anxiety experiences panic attacks, but if you’ve ever had an episode of panic that affects your body in these ways, it may have been a panic attack.
There’s a difference between being nervous or worried about a situation, such as issues at work or waiting for the results of a medical test and experiencing anxiety. These things can cause anxiety, but it’s often acute and goes away when the problem is resolved.
Anxiety that goes on for a long time can cause distress and impact your mental health negatively. If your anxiety goes on for weeks, months, or even years, you might have an anxiety disorder. These include panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder. If any of these apply to you, don’t worry – there is help. Therapy can do wonders for treating anxiety disorders and will give you the tools to help you manage your anxiety.
If you’d like to learn more about how therapy can help you answer the questions “am I anxious?” and “do I have anxiety?” reach out today (I help teens and young adults in the state of New York).
I also have an online course, The Path to Peace, that will help you learn ways to manage your anxiety through the use of evidence based treatment methods. To learn more about my program, click here.
Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.