Anxiety is the most common mental health struggle in the United States, with an annual prevalence of 19.1% (that’s nearly 48 million people).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as excessive and difficult to control worry characterized by symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbances.
Despite how common it is to spot in clinical settings, it can be more difficult to identify anxiety in more practical situations among the general public.
In fact, most individuals only become aware of a potential GAD diagnosis with the onset of more severe physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightness, racing heartbeat, dizziness, and trembling, along with significantly declined functioning at home, work or in social interactions.
Below are some of the frequently overlooked signs that you or someone you know might be experiencing anxiety:
Social / relational fall out: Most of us have had a personal or observed experience with a friend that’s always complaining or stand-offish in certain environments. Before writing them off for having bad energy, consider the environmental impacts on their sense of safety and control. Negative core beliefs and thought patterns related to anxiety often lead to nitpicking and withdrawal behaviors. Sometimes, simply acknowledging potential feelings of anxiety provides the accountability needed to start more effectively coping (i.e., “Hey bro/sis, I see you over here by yourself, are you comfortable?”).
Irritability and confrontation: Remember that anxiety triggers our fight, flight or freeze response. While it is common for many to avoid confrontation (flight), others may engage in heightened conflict (fight) when feeling keyed up or worried. A key indicator of anxious conflict and irritability is highlighted by the content, which is usually related to trivial or irrelevant details. In many cases, this behavior is perceived as antagonizing.
Poor concentration and functionality: It’s no secret that we live in an era of hyper-productivity. The result is that we make restlessness seem normal. However, if you find yourself trying to fill every moment with personal or career development OR you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed trying to keep track of your existing schedule, there may be some underlying anxiety.
It is in the best interest of practitioners and patients to normalize situations in which anxiety presents itself more mundanely. By doing so, we can work together to decrease the severity and long-term fallout of unmanaged mental health struggles.