Most of us, if not all of us, experience typical levels of anxiety on a weekly or even daily basis. This sort of anxiety helps us perform better at our jobs, prepare for upcoming events (like tests and presentations), and plan appropriately for the future. This level of anxiety is healthy and necessary for us to be successful at those things we set our minds to and to keep us safe from harm.
However, there may come a time when our anxiety levels start to get the best of us; when we start to feel burdened by the thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physiological sensations that are common to clinical levels of anxiety. We may not notice it at first, but, as days progress to weeks, we realise that we are not feeling like ourselves and we have to expend ten times more energy than usual to get anything done.
Nevertheless, in spite of these realisations, we still may not be able to pinpoint what exactly is going on. Without the knowledge of what anxiety is and what it looks like, especially when it reaches levels that require further intervention, we may tend to brush it off as “a rough patch” or “a hormonal thing,” or attribute it to other cosmic forces.
In an effort to help the general population better understand above-average levels of anxiety, I present here nine indicators that will make it easier for you to identify when your anxiety is becoming “too much.”
1. You have racing thoughts or your thoughts feel like a jumbled mess. Worry is a central feature of anxiety, and worry is often associated with fearful thoughts about how situations will play out, what the future will bring, and what can go wrong. The associated feelings of uncertainty then push you to create a bunch of scenarios in your head (as to how things will play out) in an attempt to increase feelings of certainty, but this often has the opposite effect and instead creates mental clutter. You may also find yourself thinking about multiple problems at once, so much so that it feels like your brain has no “off” switch.
2. You cannot seem to focus or make important decisions. Another common symptom of higher-than-normal levels of anxiety is difficulty concentrating or your mind going blank. Worry makes it difficult to tune out the noise of jumbled thoughts associated with anxiety and thus makes it harder to focus. Excessive anxiety also puts stress on the nervous system (which plays a part in memory and learning), and is why short-term memory processes like paying attention can be negatively affected.
3. You have difficulty falling or staying asleep, or your sleep is unsatisfying. When you are very anxious you may find yourself having significant difficulty falling asleep because your mind is buzzing or because you are feeling anxious energy in your body. You may also find that when you wake up in the morning you feel like you did not sleep at all. Sleep disturbance, particularly insomnia, is a common problem related to anxiety. In addition, sleeping problems due to anxiety can make worry and other somatic symptoms related to anxiety worse.
4. You have tense muscles and/or other somatic symptoms. Anxiety, especially over an extended period of time, can lead to the manifestation of physical symptoms including stiffness and aches, like in the upper back or neck; headaches, chest pain, nausea, and light-headedness, to name a few. These somatic symptoms often manifest in the aftermath of the body’s engagement in a “flight or fight” response which is sparked by fear, anxiety or stress. They can also be caused by hypersensitivity to your body’s usual cues during periods of anxiety which makes normal bodily functions seem more intense.
5. You have a constant feeling of dread or impending doom. Anxiety can sometimes put you in a mental state where you begin to feel like something bad is going to happen and you cannot seem to shake that feeling. You are always on edge, waiting for something bad to happen. This feeling can creep up on you when you start to think that your life is going “too well,” and you convince yourself that this means something bad is going to happen. It can also be made worse by consuming tragic news stories or looking for omens in benign or unrelated events.
6. You have started having panic attacks or panic attack-like symptoms. When anxiety becomes really intense in any given moment, you may have a rush of multiple physiological and cognitive symptoms that resemble a panic attack. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, choking, trembling; shortness of breath, tingling sensations, or a fear of dying or losing control. Persons who experience panic attacks often confuse it with other medical phenomena, like heart attacks, which can intensify fear and make panic symptoms worse.
7. You are feeling disconnected from your body or your surroundings. Feeling like you are detached from your body and your surroundings is another indicator that your anxiety has reached a concerning level. This means that you feel as though you are having a sort of out-of-body experience (i.e. depersonalisation) or that your surroundings are not real (i.e. derealisation). These feelings are common to panic attacks and during periods of severe anxiety or stress.
8. You are feeling on edge or irritable all the time. Excessive worry and anxiety can manifest as nervousness, tenseness and irritability. You may find yourself snapping at others for no reason, getting frustrated about things you would not usually get upset about, or picking fights over minor issues. You may also feel like, no matter what you do, you just cannot seem to feel calm or at peace. These are all good indicators that you need to do some work to get your anxiety back under control.
9. You are feeling tired all day, even after a full night’s rest. Fatigue or a lack of energy during the day, even after a full night’s rest, is yet another indicator that you may be harbouring anxious energy. This lack of energy may also be associated with a lack of motivation, a tendency to lose steam quickly, or an inability to complete tasks that you started.
If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more symptoms highlighted above and needs mental health support, feel free to reach out. Anxiety, and other related syndromes, can be very debilitating, but you are not alone. UPWARD Counselling and Psychological Services is based in Trinidad and Tobago and is here to support and promote our population’s mental health and wellness. Contact information for UPWARD’s Clinical Psychotherapist, Reycine Mc Kenzie, can be found under the “Contact” tab of this website.
Wishing you continued success in your mental wellness journey.
Love and Regards,
Reycine Mc Kenzie, MSc.
Founder and Clinical Psychotherapist at
UPWARD Counselling and Psychological Services