- Poor sleep – When we’re stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed we can take ages to fall asleep. The mind just goes round and round without shutting off. When we’re busy in the day we don’t feel it as much but when it’s quiet time then things get hard. For some people it can hit during the night with waking up feeling anxious and have trouble going back to sleep. For some it’ll be the early morning waking and not getting to sleep again. However it hits, disrupted sleep is a huge common denominator when anxiety is present.
- Re-running conversations – going back over them wondering if I said the wrong thing, did I look foolish, did I upset them and so on is hugely common. For many, like myself when I was anxious, it can be pushed into planning future conversations, imagining the problems, what they will say, and so on. When we’re stressed or anxious our brains are in gear to find any problems. Even when there are none the system is at work and it’s analysing everything to see if there might be a danger. It’s miserable, but it’s very common.
- Holding back in case of failure – This destroys lives. I held back from so many opportunities in life. If you’d offered me the best job ever, I would still have found reasons to avoid it. I’d have been thinking of what could go wrong, how I might fail, what people would think when they see me fail and so on. We simply avoid so much and the world shrinks. Things we used to do are dropped and our comfort zone shrinks. Bit by bit for some it gets to where leaving the house becomes a big problem.
- Hard on self – beat self up. If someone else makes a mistake we’re sympathetic. If we make a mistake, we’re the worst in the world. We dwell on it. Years later it might even come to mind and make us cringe, yet all the good we do, and successes we have are missed. We can’t take a compliment, but we’ll make an insult or problem out of anything that comes along. Then we run ourselves down about if for ages. Again, the program’ of what’s wrong here?’, is running.
- Not good enough – This runs through all types of anxiety at some level. We can be competent and know it intellectually, but we can’t bank the feeling. When we do well, we often feel like a fraud. “I got away with it” is more common a feeling than “I did well”. That constant program of what’s wrong can undermine the good in every situation. We’re left with no connection to success or value, only giving head space to any bad feeling.
- Perfectionism – In spite of feeling we’re a failure, not good enough, or constantly getting things wrong we very often feel we must be perfect in everything. Doing something well isn’t enough. We’re looking at how far from perfect it was rather than any actual result or value we achieved. Perfect is not attainable so this is a great way for the fear in anxiety to keep us stressed and looking out for danger.
- Always on alert – This is the core of anxiety. The mind feels ‘something’ is wrong. The brain and body are on alert to find and respond to this expected ‘threat’ or ‘danger’, real or imaginary. We can be jumpy, talk at a million miles an hour, spot every slight thing, notice detail everyone else notices, and run it round in a rapid and frantic way. Everything can become overwhelming and it can be frustrating when others don’t even seem to notice what we spot.
- Hate being centre of attention – Whether it’s just a nervousness in social situations in general or a panic when people give us their attention, we can always worry about what other people think about us. It’s fundamental to human evolution. The tribe matters. Going blank when presenting or in an interview is a big part, but more often we avoid all situations that might have us as the focus of other people’s attention. Our world shrinks again.
- Poor concentration – Another big common denominator for anxiety is that it’s hard to stay focused. If we’re feeling on alert our biology pushes us to look around, listen for danger, smell the air for smoke and so on. Out attention is outwards as it should be in a real crisis. However, if the crisis is an exam all that useful reaction in a dangerous place becomes a disaster in the exam hall. Reading can be tough, we can zone out when in conversations, and trying to sit through a lecture can be torture.
- Always seeing the worst-case scenario / never notice the good – This is a double blow to life. Every opportunity is seen as a risk but even worse we often pick up on everyone else’s failures and can’t spot the good. This happens a lot if our parents are anxious. It can feel like they only see the bad and never can compliment or even acknowledge the good. A totally skewed feedback can come to us from them because of that. It’s tragic and very common. The challenge if we’re anxious is to not respond like that to our own children. To be able to see the good and to relax about the minor things that irritate. Too often the pattern is passed from one generation to the next and we know a lot of it is just what we’re exposed to that we then take on board as normal.
If any of this is a worry my advice is to recognise that there may well be anxiety present. It’s not who we are. It’s not our personality. It’s just something we’re doing. I went from constant anxiety and fear to where life is now full of opportunity and wonderful things I never thought I’d have – like my family for example. Being a father would have been nerve racking if I was still anxious.
My advice is to think about whatever is going round and round the mind and with a pen and paper break it down. Is it as big a deal as it feels? Is there evidence that it’s a real problem or just a worry? Will it matter in 5 years’ time? These questions can help us identify if we’re worrying for a good reason or if it’s anxiety – that is worry regardless of whether there’s really something to worry about.
Worry rarely helps in any case, but if it’s anxiety then we know what we have to tackle. The pattern of out of control worry is the issue, not what we worry about. There are lots of great ways to reduce anxiety. Have hope. Life rarely gets better by ignoring it. Take control and take action.
We’re always happy to chat about how life can improve, so feel free to get in touch.
A healthy mind, A healthy body, A healthy Life!