If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that recently I’ve been struggling a bit with anxiety. I’ve talked about previous brushes with anxiety on the blog before, talking about what helps me cope when I have racing thoughts, nightmares and generally feel worried about things.
This time however, things have been different.
I’ve never experienced anxiety symptoms quite like this before and while I write about mental health for a living, there are some things I’ve learnt about anxiety that I didn’t know before.
I thought it might be useful to note down the things I didn’t know (the ‘lesser known’ symptoms) in case someone else out there is experiencing it and doesn’t know what it is.
To start with though, here are some of the common physical symptoms I had which I immediately recognised as anxiety:
- tight/constricted throat
- chest pain
- stomach pain
- feeling of dread/worry/nervousness/panic
- feeling shakey/lightheaded
Interestingly in the past I’ve had chest pain, but didn’t associated it with anxiety at the time. Knowing what I know now, I immediately made the link (especially when the other symptoms popped up). Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but the symptoms above are quite typical.
There have been a few other things however that caught me off guard. Here’s what I didn’t know.
You can have just physical symptoms
In the past I’ve experienced more ‘mental’ symptoms of anxiety – I’ve had the racing thoughts, being unable to switch off, feeling tense and having nightmares. This time however, my thoughts are calm. I haven’t had any nightmares and I have been able to switch off from stress.
Instead, my body seems to be overwhelmed. The symptoms are purely physical. Of course, there is a lot of mental stress, tension and worry there, but it seems to be in the background.
I’m not actively thinking about things, getting worried and then feeling anxious. It’s like it’s just simmering in the background, manifesting itself physically. Apparently this is quite common and people tend to either have the physical symptoms or the mental symptoms.
… And they can come out of nowhere
As there are no obvious thought patterns leading me to feel anxious, the symptoms can strike anytime, anywhere. There are times and places it seems worse, but there are no obvious triggers. It can strike during yoga, when I’m dropping off to sleep, at my desk at work… it doesn’t seem to have a preference.
You can feel as if you’re not in your body
This is called ‘depersonalisation’ or ‘derealisation’ and I had to look it up because when it happened to me I was pretty freaked out. I was at my desk at work and felt like I wasn’t in my body – I had no awareness of my physical body and felt like I just wasn’t there.
It’s happened a few times since and after a bit of panicked Googling I’ve learnt it is quite a common anxiety symptom. When it does happen, I try to activate my sense of touch and use mindfulness techniques to bring myself back.
It can seriously hinder your decision making abilities
This fun symptom reared its ugly head when I was trying to pack for a weekend away with Dan. I looked at my wardrobe full of clothes and the idea of picking outfits to wear seemed completely overwhelming and impossible.
It took me about an hour of staring at my wardrobe, distracting myself with my phone, feeling overwhelmed, crying and staring at my wardrobe some more before I got anything done.
Eventually I just grabbed one pair of jeans and a couple of different T-shirts. I’ve since discovered that anxiety messes with your ability to make decisions, something about the way it interferes with the prefrontal cortex.
That you don’t need to wait a certain amount of time before getting help
As I’d only been experiencing anxiety symptoms for a couple of weeks, I thought I should try to manage them myself before going to the doctor – but when I had to leave work one day because my symptoms were so bad, I realised I was way out of my depth.
I made an appointment at the doctors for the next day and am now waiting to start cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help me cope.
So that’s probably the key take-away from this post, recognise when something’s wrong and don’t be afraid to go to the doctors about it, right away.
Don’t feel you have to suffer something for a certain amount of time before getting professional help – if it’s affecting your ability to function, if it’s stopping you from working or you simply don’t know what to do to help yourself, get some support.
I’ve never had CBT before and I’m looking forward to learning more about it and seeing what it can offer me. I’m also keen to improve my mindfulness practice as this already helps some symptoms.
Has anyone else had CBT? Did you find it helpful? Let me know in the comments or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hopefully when I’ve got more of a handle on things I can share what’s helped 🙂