“Things just stress me out!” Is a common complaint I hear from clients. While stress is a common thing and often goes away when circumstances change, there are times when it’s more than just stress. And that stress can actually be anxiety. When do you need to seek professional help to work on letting go before you make ourselves and those around us sick? Here are a few signs to look for to help you tell the difference as well as some tips of what you can do to help it.
Is it Anxiety or Just Stress?
- Insomnia: We all suffer from problems sleeping at some point. The question lies behind what is driving it. If you are having a difficult time falling asleep because you can’t turn off your thinking or wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, then it may be anxiety driven. Grab a piece of paper and jot down everything that is running through your head. Set it aside and look at it in the morning.
- Difficulty concentrating: At work and can’t remember what the next step of the project is? Can’t sit long enough to focus on a task? All those other items will get done. Stop. Focus on this moment and then proceed. Good skills to use to be present are focusing on your 5 senses: touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste. They will bring you back!
- Upset stomach and headaches: Our body holds a lot of anxiety inside itself. We can be so tense that we get physically ill. Stretching is a great way to release tension and can be done wherever you are without drawing too much attention to yourself, which can increase your anxiety. If you have headaches, focus on your shoulders and relaxing those muscles. Upset stomach may be your body’s way of saying, “Slow down. I need to relax!” and that you need to take care of yourself.
- Hard time engaging with people: If you sense yourself pulling back from relationships because you don’t know how that person will respond or your uncomfortable feelings are increase around them, you may have some social anxiety. Work on creating an environment that is comfortable for you. Set up time with one or two people instead of a huge group. Invite people to your home or a place of your choosing if home creates anxiety. Go slowly but keep going and don’t let feeling anxious stop you from relationships.
- Easily irritated: Whether it is with those around you, yourself, or inanimate objects, being easily irritated can be a sign of anxiety or early onset of obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviors. Anxiety is fed by the need for control or the feeling that you are out of control. Learn to let things go, see other perspectives, and not have one “right” way of doing something. Create a mantra or remind yourself, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Try new methods, learn new skills, and work on being flexible!
My favorite tip that does not fit into the list is to practice any skill to combat anxiety when you are already calm. If you cannot manage it during moments of peace, it will not work for you when you or your body is feeling anxious, and that can only make the anxiety worse instead of better! These are only a few ideas to consider, and you may need to see a counselor if your symptoms interfere with your daily life or relationships.
Jennifer Kempfert is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and couples specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Westminster, CO.