Anxiety is an emotion we’ve all felt – worry, worry and incessant overthinking. The truth is, as any psychologist will tell you, stress is not inherently bad. In fact, it’s a response that sets up your mind and body to adapt to situations that could be threatening.
There is a point, however, when this response can start to work against you. How do you know when your anxiety is crippling you instead of helping you? While the best option is to see a licensed mental health professional, it’s also helpful to educate yourself about these three signs that may indicate severe anxiety.
#1. Your anxiety doesn’t go away with the sun
A high level of anxiety during the day that does not subside by evening is cause for concern.
According to recent study, for most anxious people, the anxiety usually subsides by the end of the day. But this is not the case for people who have higher levels of anxiety.
“Worry can become a cause for concern if the frequency and/or intensity of the worry is disproportionate to the source of the worry,” explains Vanderbilt University’s Rebecca Cox. “If I worry so much about an upcoming test that I can’t focus on studying, or I worry about thunderstorms so often that I don’t leave my house, then the worry has moved into a problematic range.”
Essentially, he explains, anxiety has likely reached a clinical level if it interferes with your daily life goals and values.
Previous research says that worry may work to keep anxiety at a high, but predictable, level in order to avoid experiencing an unexpected change in emotion.
If you suffer from evening anxiety, Cox has the following tips for you:
- High levels of worry and generalized anxiety disorder are common and treatable. Those seeking treatment should find evidence-based psychotherapy providers from reputable organizations.
- Healthy lifestyle factors may also help with anxiety, such as prioritizing sleep and regular exercise
- We can also reduce the power of worry by accepting the uncertainty in life. When we worry about something over which we have little or no control, introducing some “maybe” thoughts can be a powerful challenge to worry. “Maybe I’ll fail this exam, maybe a terrible storm will hit… maybe, maybe not,” Cox explains. “Accepting and tolerating this uncertainty can help us stop trying to control the future by worrying.”
#2. Your anxiety seeps into your dreams
A recent one study that tracked the dreams of clinically anxious people revealed some fascinating commonalities.
Specifically, several dream themes appeared to be more prevalent in anxiety patients compared to healthy individuals. These topics include:
- Hunted and hunted
- He is physically assaulted and faces aggressive actions
- Frozen in terror
- Arguments and verbally aggressive interactions
- Anxiety and fear of aggressive actions from others
- Fear of falling and risk of falling
- Exclusion and rejection in social situations
- Death of parents and family members
- Car or airplane accidents and crashes
- Dealing with setbacks and failure
Other defining characteristics of these dreams were:
- Previous love interests. Ex-partners or ex-spouses of dreamers appeared more often in the dream content of people with anxiety disorder than in dreams of healthy people
- High speed and power. The dreams of patients with anxiety disorders were also characterized by the presence of high speed and fast speed in general, and then rapidly moving characters, objects, transport and vehicles
- High emotional intensity. The presence of an anxiety disorder induces a higher overall subjective intensity of dream experiences and dream images. Dream contents in anxiety patients are not only present in large numbers but are also experienced with particularly high subjective intensity and emphasis.
If your dreams are characterized by such images and themes, psychologist Anton Rimsh of the University of Dusseldorf advises consulting a practicing psychoanalyst, as they have experience working not only with anxiety disorders but also with dream content.
#3. Your stress is stressing out your significant other
A study who monitored anxiety levels in 33 married couples (the wife in each case suffered from clinical anxiety) found that on days when the wife’s anxiety worsened, the husband reported that their relationship was painful.
In most cases, the responsibility of accommodating or alleviating their wife’s stress fell on the husband. In cases where the husband was able to alleviate the situation, the wife reported the relationship as positive. But if the husband reacted with anger or annoyance, it made her situation worse, creating a negative and painful feedback loop of increased anxiety and hostility.
The story, however, does not end there. Just because the husband was able to temporarily handle their wife’s anxiety did not mean that the impact of the interaction on the relationship was positive. This was especially true in relationships where the stress relief technique was avoidance.
“It is possible that when couples collude to manage stress through avoidance, they may inadvertently maintain or exacerbate the degree of joint distress from day to day,” the authors report.
If a relationship has reached the stage where stress (or the avoidance of stress) controls the dynamics and level of distress, it may be time for specialist intervention. In these cases an honest and open dialogue with your partner, a counselor or a couples therapist is strongly recommended.
Conclusion: Mental health issues, like physical ailments, are inevitable. The problem starts when they are not treated for long periods of time. Monitoring your stress levels and seeking help when help is needed can greatly benefit your health and lifestyle.