I’ve created a PDF of the main points in this post, if you’d like to keep a little reminder you can download it here: Anxiety Symptoms
Recently, I had the bright idea of actually noting down what my anxiety symptoms were as an attempt to be more aware of what’s happening in my body and mind when I’m becoming anxious. Having a little more cognisance of what’s going on helps me to recognise that I’m anxious, and means I’m (slightly) less likely to completely ignore everything and push it all down until it erupts in a panic attack.
I’m basically anxious all the time, so ingrained into my psyche are the useless thinking patterns and behaviours, but it’s still good to know when it’s creeping up to a less manageable point.
Increased or irregular heartbeat
This is pretty self-explanatory, but when anxiety grabs a slow hold onto my physical being, my heart rate is always one of the first things to go. Recently, I was sitting minding my own business and it just started to increase for what seemed like no reason. It’s doing it now, presumably just because I’ve had the audacity to mention it. I had to trace my thoughts and see what it *might* have been related to, but it’s tricky with the body. Things just sneak up on me, which I suppose make it all the more important to notice it.
Oh, hi there. I look well, you say? That’s just the sheen of sweat giving me a healthy glow. I won’t lie, I’m a fairly sweaty person anyway (probably because, as I mentioned, I am always anxious) but in times of greater anxiety comes greater sweating. Particularly at night. I have woken up drenched on several occasions. I stayed at my friend’s house a few months ago and I just sweated through her bedclothes like a bitch from hell. We were both really quite impressed by how much moisture I had managed to produce. I’m like a little hot stone being flung around a bed. It’s as though I’ve been struck with some terrible fever but really it’s just my old friend anxiety coming out to play.
Fidgeting and skin picking
This is a mindless habit and I do it most of the time anyway, but it steps up when I’m anxious. I’ll sit there wringing my hands, chewing my fingernails and the skin around, scratching at things that aren’t there, picking at tiny bumps on my arms and face. One of the first times I saw my therapist he remarked on how ‘composed’ I was, which I inwardly chortled at because my hands did not remain still the entire time, and I did not feel composed in the slightest.
Shortness of breath
This is always a pleasant one. Given how much time I spend with an elevated heart rate, honestly you’d think my cardio would be better but it doesn’t take much to get me out of breath (example: the other day I ended up out of breath after changing the bedding). My woeful physical state aside, struggling to catch my breath is a sure sign I’m not feeling my best. Sometimes, I’ll just be casually minding my own anxiety-ridden business and I’ll realise I’ve been holding my breath for no fucking reason whatsoever.
A semi-permanent state of being on edge means that the more anxious I get, the more irritable I become. This can be at absolutely anyone or anything. I suppose being ready for a fight or flight situation increases edginess to a degree. Helpfully, I never really let this out so it just adds to the swirling cocktail of emotions already stirring inside.
Lack of concentration
If I’m anxious, you can bet that most of the time I’ll have absolutely no idea what I’m anxious about. Despite that, I still struggle to focus on things and get distracted quite easily. It might be to do with the fatigue, or maybe me actively trying not to focus on something lest it make me all the more anxious. I zone in and out of conversations, which I accept is hugely irritating, but particularly if I’m doing something else my brain just wanders and completely loses its capacity to multi-task.
Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep
Usually, sleep for me isn’t a problem. I say that, but of course, needing a nap an hour after getting up when I have things to do is a bit of a problem. What I mean is, I don’t usually struggle to get to sleep. If I’m anxious, though, I can be kept awake for what seems like no apparent reason. Before I was medicated up to my eyeballs I remember being kept awake by racing thoughts. I’m not sure if it’s the medicine or not, but now it sort of feels as though my brain is moving fast, but not a lot is really happening. My thoughts may not be distressing, they just don’t always settle down with the rest of me. My anxiety definitely comes out whilst I’m asleep, as well. I sweat excessively, move a lot, wake up multiple times, even experience sleep paralysis.
Of course, if I’m not sleeping as well and still taking sedative medication, up creeps the fatigue from ‘normal’ levels to I-can’t-get-out-of-bed levels. It’s a strange contrast with the racing physical symptoms, and these are as big a part of it as not sleeping. If my anxious body is constantly coursing with adrenaline, it’s going to crash pretty hard, and it does. Sometimes, panic attacks actually bring relief because it all gets out and I don’t have to wander around for days feeling like a weirdly caffeinated zombie.
I hold anxiety in my body, as is pretty damn obvious if you’ve read any of this. Subconsciously, I will tense up at random times, or if I’m experiencing other symptoms. If I’m trying to keep my anger in? Tense. Trying to get to sleep and failing? Tense. Struggling to catch my breath or slow my heart? Tense. Much like with my breathing, I take stock of my body every now and then and realise that my hands, feet, or shoulders are completely tensed up and have been for who knows how long.
Trying to do too much at once
Heightened anxiety states sometimes lead to me trying to get everything done at once, even unimportant things. I can flit from task to task, or decide that I immediately need to research products I can’t yet afford to buy. I give myself more and more to dip in and out of, with nothing getting resolved until I crash and fall asleep, forgetting about everything that was, for the most part, completely unnecessary in the first place.
I notice this the most when I’m waiting for my GP, strangely. Along with fidgeting and skin picking, restless legs crop up when I’m actually aware of what I’m nervous about, and sometimes when I’m struggling to sleep. It’s the adrenaline doing its thing again – it’s like a milder version of the intense twitches I get after a panic attack, if anyone is familiar with that experience.
Aversion to noises or company
Similar to, and likely caused by, my irritation I often find myself wishing people and things would go away, shut up, or both. I don’t suffer with misophonia, I just want things to be quiet and leave me alone. If I’m anxious, my body and brain are on edge. Loud noises can have more of an effect on me, but equally so can minor things. I get wound up by someone talking to me for slightly too long, but I’m too repressed to let my feelings out, so inside it stays and adds to the maelstrom.
I feel as though I should write some grand conclusion here, it feels as little anticlimactic to just end. This list will be ever-changing as I learn more about what my symptoms means and how to manage them, but for now I’m hoping this accountability can help me to identify and manage things that I don’t always know are happening.
Every day is different, some days are harder fights than others, but understanding and care of our own minds is something we should never take for granted.