Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR

Feeling anxious is a common experience—and at times, it’s even a good thing, helping us to increase our motivation, awareness, and competitiveness. But other times, anxiety can feel overwhelming and even unmanageable. How do you know when your anxiety has become problematic?

As a therapist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, I’ve seen many clients whose anxiety has grown into a life-changing problem. This can happen gradually over years or as quickly as a few weeks, yet the common factor is that it negatively impacts one’s quality of life. Panic attacks, restlessness, and avoiding people or places that trigger anxiety are a few clear signs of problematic anxiety. Other signs are not so obvious.

Physical Ailments

Problematic anxiety impacts our bodies. It can cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension or pain, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, and headaches, among others. Some people are referred to therapy by their primary care doctors because they have symptoms with no clear medical cause. Although these physical reactions are induced by emotions, they are very real and detrimental to one’s life. If you’re dealing with physical ailments caused by anxiety, you might miss out on social events, be unable to participate in hobbies, and find it difficult to meet the requirements of your job or education. In addition, these symptoms can lead to short-term and long-term physical illnesses. Someone wrestling with anxiety is more likely to develop a weakened immune system, leaving them vulnerable to the common cold, flu, or more severe illnesses.

Constant, Unmanageable Worrying

We all worry, but endlessly worrying about multiple subjects is a sign of problematic anxiety. Let’s say you’re worried not just about your marriage, but also about your health, your children, your finances, and the future. This type of worrying usually doesn’t stop when it seems like it should. People have told me that once one of their worries is resolved—maybe they’ve finally paid off their credit card debt—another worry soon takes its place. These worries are often exaggerated or blown out of proportion. You might feel convinced that if you were to miss even one credit card payment, your credit score would plummet by 200 points, even though that is not likely to occur.

Such constant worrying feels unmanageable. It may be difficult for you to stop worrying or even take a brief break. One of my clients told me, “My worries are like a constant noise with many different sounds that are out of sync. I just can’t turn down the volume.”

Poor Concentration and Decision Making

Problematic anxiety makes it hard to focus. The resulting loss of concentration could hinder your ability to function at work, in the home, and anywhere focus is necessary. My clients have told me that their minds often “go blank.” Some have said that they cannot break free from worrying to concentrate on what’s really necessary.

Decision-making can also become more difficult. You might struggle to actively make a decision out of fear of choosing the wrong thing, or you might make impulsive choices without considering the consequences. My clients have admitted that they sometimes make the wrong decision simply so they can stop imagining “what if.” Suppose you are terribly anxious about being late to a meeting; you might knowingly or unknowingly create a delay that causes you to arrive late. This allows you to experience the consequences instead of worry about them—yet those consequences could be severe.

Anxiety can lead to serious problems, but it can also be managed. If you feel that you are experiencing problematic anxiety, you may benefit from individual therapy. Working with a therapist can help you to learn ways to manage your anxiety and improve your quality of life. Contact Symmetry Counseling by calling (312) 578-9990 to begin your journey of anxiety management.