Could My Problem Be Anxiety?

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“My doctor told me today that he thinks the symptoms and problems I told him about today were, ‘probably just anxiety’.   I don’t know if this could be right because the symptoms make me feel physical ill when they occur.  What are the symptoms of anxiety?”

The general symptoms of true anxiety involve two main areas, your physical sensations or symptoms and what you are thinking about before, during and after the anxiety experience or episode.  Unfortunately, some people suffer from these symptoms much or most of the day, every day.  Others only have episodes.  Futhermore, some anxiety disorders involve some additional unique symptoms.  Examples include obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias.

Here are the physical symptoms commonly experienced by patients.  You can think remember them most easily if you take time to recall how your body prepares to face a real sudden danger or safety threat.  This is often referred to as your “fight” or “flight” response.  Fight or flight feelings and body sensations include:

Increased heart rate, uncomfortable feeling that “… heart is ‘pounding’.

Quick, shallow breaths, hyperventilation

Feeling “jittery”, uncomfortably restless

Increased muscle tension

Increased perspiration

Light headedness, dizziness

Chest tightness, pains

Throat tightness, feeling it may be difficult to swallow

While these physical symptoms will not cause you harm, they are certainly very distressing.  Patients vary in the symptoms they report; some report that some symptoms are most troublesome to them, such as tightness in their chest or throat, while others are distressed most by rapid heart rate or dizziness. However, when severe, all patients report that their particular symptoms of anxiety seriously disrupt their concentration,  enjoyment of recreational activities, and reduce work or school performance.

In addition to these physical symptoms, you have no doubted noticed that your thinking changes during an anxiety event: 

Here are the most common thinking or “cognitive” symptoms:

Vague perception that something bad may happen or that you feel unsafe but don’t know why

Uncontrollable worry

Excessive fear, apprehension

Thoughts that a dangerous event or catastrophe might happen

Feeling you are helpless or cannot do enough to prevent these bad things from happening.

You probably have noticed that the worse your physical symptoms get, the more distressed and ‘out-of-control’ your thinking becomes; and vice versa.  The physical and cognitive symptoms of anxiety affect one another dramatically.

I see many individuals after they have visited their primary care doctor, were diagnosed with “anxiety”, and given anxiety medication.  If a person has a long-standing problem with anxiety nearly every day, they are more likely to be prescribed one of the SSRI or SNRI drugs.  Providers who want to address the less severe forms of anxiety or only occasional anxiety are more likely to prescribe an antihistamine such as hydroxyzine or even diphenhydramine.  You can look up these medications if you have been prescribed one of them, or are preparing to visit your provider for medication assistance.  Less and less often, patients are being prescribed the more addicting drugs such as Xanax, or another benzodiazepine. 

Copyright 2019  David M. Stein, Ph.D.  Readers are welcome to link to this article.   Copying this article without the written permission of the author is not permitted.  Copying the article and presenting it on another website without appropriately crediting the present author is considered plagiarism.  This action will be reported to state or provincial licensing boards as an ethical violation.