Anxiety is an emotion we’ve all felt – the uneasiness, the restlessness, and the non-stop worrying. The truth is, as any psychologist will tell you, anxiety isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s a response your mind and body create to adapt to situations that can be threatening.
However, there is a time when this reaction can start to work against you. How do you know when your fear is paralyzing 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 could indicate severe anxiety.
#1. Your fear doesn’t go down with the sun
A high level of anxiety during the day that does not subside by evening is a cause for concern.
According to a recent studyFor most anxious people, worrying usually subsides by the end of the day. But this is not the case for those with a higher level of concern.
“Concerns can become a cause for concern if the frequency and/or intensity of the concern is disproportionate to the source of the concern,” explains Rebecca Cox of Vanderbilt University. “If I’m so worried about an upcoming test that I can’t focus on my studies, or if I worry so much about storms that I don’t leave my house, then the concern has become a problematic area.”
Essentially, she explains, worry has likely reached a clinical level if it interferes with your goals and values of everyday life.
Previous research says worry can work to keep anxiety at a high but predictable level to prevent an unexpected shift in emotion.
If you suffer from night terrors, Cox has the following advice for you:
- High levels of worrying and generalized anxiety disorder are common and can be treated. Those seeking treatment should find evidence-based psychotherapy providers from reputable organizations.
- Healthy lifestyle factors can also help with concerns, such as prioritizing sleep and exercising regularly
- We can also lessen the power of worry by accepting the uncertainty in life. When we’re worried about something that we have little or no control over, it can be a real challenge to worry about thinking “maybe.” “Maybe I fail that exam, maybe a terrible storm is coming…maybe, maybe not,” explains Cox. “Accepting and tolerating that uncertainty can help us stop trying to control the future by worrying.”
#2. Your fear is leaking into your dreams
a recent study that followed the dreams of clinically anxious people revealed some fascinating similarities.
In particular, several dream subjects seemed to be more common in anxiety patients than in healthy individuals. These themes include:
- Chased and being chased
- Being physically attacked and confronted with aggressive actions
- froze with fear
- Quarrels and Verbal Aggressive Interactions
- Fear and fear of aggressive actions by others
- Fear of falling and in danger of falling
- Being left out and rejected in social situations
- Death of parents and relatives
- Accidents and car or aircraft accidents
- Facing Bankruptcies and Not Succeeding
Other defining features of these dreams were:
- Previous love interests. Dreamers’ ex-partners or ex-husbands were more likely to appear in the dream content of individuals with anxiety disorders than in dreams of healthy people
- High speed and power. Dreams of patients with anxiety disorder were also characterized by the presence of high speed and high speed in general, and then fast moving characters, objects, transport and vehicles
- High emotional intensity. The presence of an anxiety disorder leads to a higher overall subjective intensity of dream experiences and dream images. The dream contents in anxiety patients not only exist in large numbers, but are also experienced with a particularly high subjective intensity and emphasis.
If your dreams are characterized by these types of images and themes, psychologist Anton Rimsh from the University of Düsseldorf recommends that you consult a practicing psychoanalyst, as they have experience not only working with anxiety disorders, but also dream content.
#3. Your fear emphasizes your significant other
A study who monitored anxiety levels in 33 couples (the woman was suffering from clinical anxiety anyway) found that on the days when the woman’s anxiety worsened, the man reported their relationship as distressing.
In most cases, the responsibility of accommodating or alleviating their wives’ anxiety was borne by the husband. In situations where the man was able to alleviate the situation, the woman reported the relationship as positive. But if the husband reacted with anger or irritation, it aggravated her situation, creating a negative and disturbing feedback loop of heightened fear and hostility.
However, the story doesn’t stop there. The fact that the husband was temporarily able to deal with their wife’s anxiety did not mean that the impact of the interaction on the relationship was positive. This was especially true for relationships where the go-to technique for eliminating fear was based on avoidance.
“It is possible that when couples collude to manage anxiety through avoidance, they may inadvertently maintain or exacerbate the level of shared distress from day to day,” the authors state.
If a relationship has reached the stage where fear (or fear avoidance) controls the dynamics and level of fear, it may be time for expert intervention. An honest and open dialogue with your partner, a therapist or a relationship therapist is highly recommended in these situations.
Conclusion: Mental health problems, such as physical ailments, are inevitable. The problem starts when they go unaddressed for a long time. Keeping an eye on your anxiety levels and seeking help when help is needed can greatly benefit your health and lifestyle.