Many people grew up with an elderly relative with a ‘touch of the nerves’, one who kept to themselves or one that drank a little too much. But looking back, these were likely symptoms of anxiety, rather than little quirks.
Anxiety is more than being nervous, and it’s likely most of us suffer from it, yet don’t even realise. Yes, it can be excessive worrying, stress and irritability. But what about the excessive drinking in the evening? The tossing and turning at night? The perfectionism? The scrolling around on our phone for hours? The staying in your comfort zone (when what you really want is outside of it)?
In the past, anxiety wasn’t talked about much and it certainly wasn’t diagnosed. We wouldn’t have considered our grandfather’s reluctance to go out as a sign of anxiety.
Our own experience of anxiety depends on how fearful we are, consciously and unconsciously, as well as what’s happening in our life now that could bring up emotions of a previous situation where we felt threatened.
But I question whether many of us still know enough about anxiety to recognise it in ourselves, as well as those close to us.
Yes, it can be the butterflies when we’re about to do public speaking, it can be the feeling we get when we’re up all night worrying about our bills and it can be our heart pounding when we’re scared.
But other lesser-known signs that may be indicative of anxiety are feeling more self-conscious than usual as well as wanting constant reassurance. Having trouble solving problems, an inability to concentrate or making effective decisions. An increase in anger alongside a sense of humour that has long since disappeared. Things aren’t as funny when people are overcome with fear.
Professionally, people might be avoiding career steps that they know are beneficial, and in doing so decreasing their productivity, performance and limiting their potential.
If we’re anxious during the day, having a replenishing sleep is not likely to happen. Anxiety has the ability to keep people wide-awake at night, when all our exhausted self wants is rest.
Physically speaking, if the anxious brain has the ability to stop sleep, it can also create a little havoc on the body. The racing heart, shaking and breathlessness when we’re anxious is fairly well-known. But it can also be causing the heartburn as well as the irritable bowel symptoms from nausea through to diarrhoea. Anxiety can cause skin rashes, and the tingles in the arms and legs. It can tense muscles so tightly that a person is in constant pain.
Anxiety could be the reason why our loved ones drink excessive amounts of alcohol or the explanation behind the drug habit. These vices are so often used as the coping tools for those trying to avoid dealing with an underlying anxiety condition that they might have never know they had.
All of these symptoms can be so pervasive that those who have lived with it for a long time almost become it. But many of those little quirks of behaviours we so recognise in others, aren’t necessarily there forever, and are likely treatable with a little knowledge and support.
Anxiety is so much more than a touch of the nerves.