Lesser-Known Symptoms Of Anxiety
Anxiety is something that is getting more and more press these days. People are coming forth, saying that they suffer from anxiety, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. I am so happy that the discussion surrounding mental illness is being brought to the surface; it is in this way that we can break the stigma and help people feel like they are not alone.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to do in terms of teaching the public about anxiety. The truth is, if you haven't suffered from it, it IS hard to imagine what it is like. And I understand that. Often, when we think about anxiety, we picture someone "panicking". The classic symptoms include a pounding heart, sweating, shaking, and shortness of breath. But as someone who has dealt with anxiety on and off for the past ten years, there are other, lesser-known symptoms of anxiety that still remain unrecognized.
The following is a small list of a couple of side effects resulting from anxiety that I have dealt with. It is not a complete list, as I am not a professional and I don't feel comfortable writing about symptoms that I have not personally experienced. I want the discussion surrounding mental illness to be as accurate and as truthful as possible, so if you have anything you would like to add to the list, you can always comment down below.
As I mentioned above, most people link anxiety to the "classic" panic attack. My anxiety, however, manifests itself very differently. When I'm anxious, I dissociate. The definition of dissociation is disconnecting from one's thoughts and emotions. I become vacant; there are no thoughts going through my head, and there are no emerging emotions. I lose track of time, and I lose track of the activities happening in my surroundings.
When my mom urged me to go to the emergency room because I was dealing with extreme anxiety, I dissociated in the waiting room. I have no idea how long I was sitting there, and I was completely unaware of the people around me. I wasn't crying, and I wasn't panicking. I appeared calm... but that's the issue. As a result of my "lack of visible symptoms", I wasn't seen by a doctor. I was put at the very bottom of the priority list in triage. It was only once I had a "visible" meltdown that the triage nurses rushed me right into the ER to be assessed by the doctor.
That is a problem. Firstly, it indicates that some people suffering from anxiety may not get seen by a professional at all, which can be dangerous both physically and psychologically. But secondly, being placed on the last tier of the priority list made me feel like my illness was not real because it wasn't visible. I want to remind YOU that even though you may not have visible symptoms (of anxiety, or of any other invisible illness), you are dealing with something REAL and don't be shy to advocate for yourself.
Skin picking is a manifestation of my anxiety, and is known more formally as excoriation. In 2015, excoriation was added to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). I have never been diagnosed with excoriation, and I don't believe that my symptoms are severe enough to fit the diagnostic criteria. However, I do engage in skin picking behaviours as a way to manage my stress.
It is difficult for me to write about this particular symptom, because I feel that it has such an "ugly" reputation in society. It is not something that is openly talked about, and I personally feel a little ashamed to admit that skin picking is somewhat problematic for me. But, like the rest of my blog posts, the whole purpose of writing about difficult topics is to bring the discussion into the open, so for that reason I am following through.
I pick at my skin particularly in times of stress. If I feel that there is some kind of imperfection on my body, I get this urge to "fix it" and take it away, so I start scratching. Mostly, for me, it is a preventative measure; I pick at my skin to prevent my anxiety from escalating and getting worse.
Like I said, my behaviours are not severe enough to warrant professional help. Skin picking does not take up most of my day, and it does not get in the way of social/professional situations or interpersonal relationships. But that being said, I do experience excoriation to a degree. I'm trying to talk about it a little bit more, so that I become a little bit less ashamed (and so that hopefully people will understand it better).
FIXATION WITH TIME
Luckily, the intensity of this symptom has decreased significantly in the past year, and for that I am thankful. But when it was at its strongest, I felt extreme anxiety around the concept of time. If things went too slowly, I would panic. Or, if things went to quickly, I would panic as well. I was constantly checking the clock; but not like you would at work, as you long for the end of your shift. I would look at the clock in a compulsive way... all day.
Things had to happen at specific times too, or else my anxiety would get out of control. Dinner had to be served at 6:30pm on the dot, otherwise I would have a meltdown. When I chewed gum, I had to chew it for exactly twenty minutes, no more and no less. I would drink my coffee at specific times during the day, and have it last a set number of minutes as well. Everything was calculated in such a way as to minimize any possibility of my anxiety getting to a level that felt unbearable.
The thing is, the more I engaged in these time-specific behaviours, the stronger my anxiety became, even though I was trying to prevent it from doing so. A lot of my compulsions surrounding time have diminished, and to be honest, I think it is because of medication. Regardless, time was something that was literally controlling my life. If this feels relatable to you, try to break one "time rule" at a time. In this way, you will gradually decrease the "power" of your rules so that they no longer affect you to the same degree.
INTENSE FITS OF ANGER OR RAGE
It takes a lot to make me angry. I feel anxiety, and sadness, and happiness very strongly... but anger? Not so much. However, suffering from anxiety brought this intense, emotional side out of me. If, for example, someone would "mess with my routine", I would lose my cool. I would panic and yell and it scared me, because I felt out of control. I remember feeling so angry one time about some little, unimportant detail that I ran down the hallway to my room, slamming my fist into the wall. I felt so unable to deal with my rage that I needed to release the tension by hitting something.
Again, this symptom of strong, emotional reactions has decreased, once more due to medication (or so I believe). The point is, I am not an angry person. I rarely feel so upset with someone that I get mad. But what happens inside the brain of someone dealing with anxiety and mental illness is so complicated that sometimes it brings about symptoms or reactions that don't reflect someone's true personality or character.
As I mentioned above, this is not a complete list of the lesser-known symptoms of anxiety, but rather a list of things and situations that I have dealt with over the years. If you suffer or know someone suffering from anxiety, don't be shy to ask (or help them to ask) for help. There are treatments for this illness, whether it be therapy, medication, natural remedies (i.e. yoga, meditation), or a combination of all three. You do not have to suffer alone.
I hope that this blog post reflects some "less talked-about" symptoms of anxiety. As much as anxiety is being openly discussed these days, there is still a lot of work to be done in giving the WHOLE or COMPLETE picture of what it is like to suffer with this illness.
Don't be shy to add to the discussion in the comments below!