In this post I will be exploring both the diagnostic criteria for anxiety, how it manifests, and how it feels and my own experience being signed off work with anxiety.
What is Anxiety
Anxiety is a lot more than just being worried, in fact people can feel anxiety whilst they are consciously aware that they have nothing to worry about. A bit like feeling alone in a crowded room. Anxiety is a mental illness as classified within the DSM-5, which can induce both mental and physical symptoms within a person. I’ve always said, aside from a bipolar mixed episode, anxiety is the worst experience I have ever had to go through.
Diagnostic Criteria for Anxiety
The DSM-5 has, just as with any mental illness, a set diagnostic criteria when giving a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Mental health professionals will look for a combination and pattern of the following symptoms:
- Excessive worry and/or panic over a variety of events, topics, activities or memories.
- Difficulty controlling their worry and maintaining emotional stability and logical thinking (as opposed to emotional thinking.)
- Three or more of the following physical symptoms
- Impaired cognitive function
- Aches and pains
- Sleep disturbances/disorders such as insomnia
The Physical Side of Anxiety
Anxiety is a mental illness, but this does not mean there are not physical symptoms. After all, the brain controls everything. These physical symptoms are not to be taken lightly, the exhaustion of managing routine day to day activities such as going food shopping or even taking a bath. It hurts to move, almost. I recall that when faced with an anxiety trigger, I would experience a rush of adrenaline, preceded by a rush of intense fatigue and exhaustion.
Anxiety can also cause complications with appetite, digestion and can also bring on nausea and in some cases vomiting. The brain is linked to the stomach closely, and they suffer in tandem.
How Anxiety Manifests
People with anxiety will display various levels of visible symptoms, anxiety after all is not just panic attacks. Some of this behaviour may include
- Constantly seeking reassurance from others. When we feel so insecure and uncertain about ourselves, we tend to seek the reassurance of others. With anxiety, this then becomes a worry in itself, as you think you must be annoying and boring to everyone. This thought pattern continues and manifests into something much greater than it needs to be.
- Being slow, sluggish and tired all the time, despite how long we sleep for, or don’t sleep for, we are exhausted every moment of the day. This is frustrating, but allow yourself to rest. Your mind is healing, treat your mind as a broken leg. You wouldn’t expect to run on it straight away.
- Social aversion, even the most extroverted outgoing person can become very adverse to social interactions when living with anxiety, as many of these social settings can become triggers for anxiety. Social interactions also become very tiring, as much as we may be having fun and be in the best company, our batteries run low very quickly.
- Distraction methods, with anxiety I believe as long as it is within moderation and causes no harm, distraction techniques such as playing games, learning new hobbies etc. can be very valuable in allowing the mind to not focus too intently on the negatives. The brain needs a rest, and part of healing is to rediscover the positive things in life that bring you peace and confidence again. Allow yourself to be immersed in something trivial, it doesn’t matter right now that you’re not doing something “productive” (you are.)
- Panic attacks, yes whilst this is not the only behaviour displayed with anxiety, this can occur when the individual reaches and surpasses breaking point.
As I have mentioned a few tomes there can be, but does not have to be, triggers for anxiety episodes. Triggers will be different for everyone, and can make sense and also can make no sense. If it is not possible for you to work through these objectively and without causing yourself emotional distress, I would recommend seeing a professional to work through these.
How Anxiety Manifested In Me
A number of years ago now I was diagnosed with anxiety, and was signed off from work for what resulted in being three months. This occurred when I had moved away from friends and family with a partner, and then the relationship had broken down. I was relatively alone, aside a few good people I did have the fortune to meet. The issue was my new job, I had just started a fantastic graduate scheme, but the environment in my workplace was toxic. Over time I started to feel alone and isolated from these people. I recognised that I was therefore behaving as such and isolating myself further. I just didn’t really connect with anyone. I started having emotional outbursts, anger, sadness, panic. I wasn’t behaving professionally at all, and could even be aggressive at times. I believe this to be down to the fight or flight reaction when the body is filled with adrenaline, as this is what anxiety does.
I was urged to go to the doctor by a very good manager of mine, and sought help. I was signed off for two weeks, which then became two months.
During my recovery I moved to be closer to friends and family. I struggled to socialise, even spending time with my best friends caused me a great deal of distress and panic, even though I knew I would more than likely have a great time with them.
I was exhausted all the time, I would do a simple task such as have a bath, and would need to rest before making food, for example. I was also struggling with a loss of appetite which led to nausea as I was basically running on fumes. I couldn’t stand the idea of eating, even when I was starving. I would gag putting food in my mouth.
I was terrified of phone calls, and wouldn’t reply to texts as I did not know what to say without embarrassing myself. Or so I thought. Fear of phones seems to be common with anxiety. Especially phone or video calls.
It took me three months but I eventually did recover from anxiety, and have not experienced it again for 5 years or so now.
- Rest as much as you can. Sleep is when the body heals and your brain needs to heal. This is the most important thing you can do, as long as you are still completing basic functioning such as eating. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Listen to your body.
- Find foods you can eat when you don’t want to. It doesn’t even have to be food, smoothies and soups will do great. For me it was apples, theres something about the acidity of apples that just seems to work with my body well. I can eat an apple when I can’t eat at all. Finding this is important as usually this will then make you hungry and wanting to eat more. Which again will support your healing, the mind needs fuel. this will help with the nausea and/or vomiting
- Reach out, but be tactful about it. Not everyone is equipped to handle mental health needs, read my advice on communicating these here. Know someone with depression? Bipolar? They will likely at least sympathise, if not empathise with your experience.
- Distraction methods, as above I think it is good to find a balance between working through issues and giving your mind a break.
- Don’t expect too much or overdo it, your body will run low on steam during most interactions and/or activities, and you will need to rest more frequently than you will likely be used to. Don’t expect too much from yourself and beat yourself up over it, if someone is worth being in your life they will understand, and the laundry can wait another day.