Signs Your Anxiety is Something More

Across the nation, some states are re-opening gyms, nail salons, and even indoor dining while other states are closing down or have already closed businesses again. Protests continue to fight racism and police violence. And millions remain unemployed. It’s no wonder so many of us feel anxious. But in this “new normal”, what’s now considered a “normal” amount of day-to-day anxiety, and what’s a sign that you may want to seek support?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person needs to experience excessive worry that interferes with their daily life for at least six months in order to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). However, “the issue of diagnosis is generally there for billing and insurance companies,” explains Merav Gur, PhD, a clinical psychologist licensed in New York. “I like to see it as something that’s more fluid.”

It’s not like you reach day 183 and suddenly you “have” anxiety. If something is impacting your life in a negative way and you are concerned, you should definitely pursue help. Additionally, there’s an anxiety disorder called adjustment disorder. This is when you have a significant reaction to a stressor within three months of that event occurring, and it can present with depressed mood, anxiety, or both, Gur explains. What distinguishes adjustment disorder from GAD is that GAD isn’t a response to a stressor; it’s more like someone’s natural state is to almost constantly be worrying, Gur says.

On the other hand, adjustment disorder may happen after experiencing something such as war, death, divorce, breakup, or, yes, a pandemic. Whatever the situation, your worry is so significant that it interferes with your social life, work, and overall functioning. “Once your anxiety starts to be intrusive or you find that it’s much harder to enjoy activities you used to enjoy before,” that’s a sign that you could benefit from the help of a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist, Gur says.

Other signs your anxiety may be something more than daily stress include:

You have trouble experiencing joy.

You withdraw more socially, which means turning down virtual hangouts as well as socially distanced in-person ones.

You struggle to concentrate on your work and find you are less productive.

You are more irritable and may have outbursts.

It’s challenging to be intimate with others.

Your sex drive has taken a significant nosedive.

Your appetite has decreased or increased significantly.

You are sleeping much more or much less.

You constantly seek reassurance from others that things are okay.

You experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, or a racing heart.

You have significantly less motivation for work or school.

Another common concern during the pandemic has been people turning to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, Gur says. If you find yourself drinking more or seeking substances—including food, meaning you have episodes of binge eating—in order to try to calm down, that’s a key signal to reach out for help.

If you think, “Why get help? The pandemic will be over eventually, and I’ll go back to who I was before,” take a pause. The US declared a national emergency to combat the coronavirus on March 13. That means this has gone on for more than four months. “This could go on for a long time, and damage can be done in this time,” Gur says. “If there are any concerns, they should be attended to now.”

As you do so, try not to judge your feelings, Gur adds. We all face different challenges, and some of us have new challenges such as job loss, caring for ill loved ones, trying to work while caring for children, and clashing with family or friends over getting together again. “A lot of people feel guilty and have more anxiety deciding what they feel comfortable doing and what they don’t feel comfortable doing, and how to communicate those issues,” Gur says. “We all have different kinds of anxiety. It’s really important not to judge your anxiety.”

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