“I don’t feel anxious, so how can I be suffering from anxiety?”
Many people who experience anxiety are unaware of the sensation because it isn’t presenting as what we assume anxiety to be. Anxiety has most commonly been described as nervousness, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, intense worries and feelings of impending doom.
What is not as commonly recognized however, is that chronic anxiety can present itself in a wide array of symptoms; many of which have become so engrained in our own personality that we tend to disregard or minimize their presence.
These symptoms can include but are not limited to:
1. Anger & Irritability:
Anger and anxiety are typically regarded as two separate emotional experiences that do not often become intertwined. The reality is that there are times in which we exhibit anger because the underlying anxiety that we are experiencing is too painful or uncomfortable for us to address directly. This dysregulation leaves us feeling imbalanced and unsafe, but instead of allowing for it to be a conscious thought or experience, our minds protect us from the vulnerability. As a result, we tend to project this discomfort through expressions of anger and frustration towards those in our path.
2. Controlling or Perfectionist Behavior:
It can be difficult for someone who experiences the need for perfection or to be in control of situations, to see these behaviors as anything other any positive. The perfectionist tends to be perceived as having it all together. But underneath the surface, there may lie deep seeded insecurities and anxieties. Subconsciously, we complete tasks perfectly in hopes of quelling the anxious discomfort within ourselves. Unfortunately, it is only a temporary fix and we then move on to a new target. Self-judgment is very much present in the perfectionist’s mind, and chances are, has been there for quite some time.
Studies show that about 20% of adult men and women in the US are chronic procrastinators. When asked about this behavior, it is common for us to minimize its presence by simply referencing that we work better under pressure, or that we had so much time to complete the task that there was no need to rush. The reality is that procrastination is a common sign of anxiety – where we feel so nervous, uncomfortable or overwhelmed with the task at hand that we avoid it altogether. It may trigger feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, so to protect ourselves from that vulnerability, we avoid, disconnect and ultimately rationalize the behavior.
There are times in which being impulsive is a good thing – where we react on a whim and it ends up propelling us forward into a better and more fulfilling scenario. But what happens when impulsivity becomes a detriment to our safety and well-being? Many people who are characterized as ‘impulsive’ tend to make decisions with minimal analysis or regard for potential consequences. To the outside eye, these individuals may appear care-free and breezy, but the reality is that this behavior may be masking something deeper. For those of us who chronically make impulsive decisions, we may be subconsciously looking to find an “escape” from anxious or uncomfortable feelings that reside within, hoping that the thrill of something new will provide fulfillment and peace. Once that excitement dissipates, what is left is an even more intense feeling of discomfort, worry and unease.
5. Negative or Pessimistic Response Initially:
Many people who experience anxiety tend to initially respond to suggestions negatively. Regardless of who or what is being spoken about, chances are, their innate reaction will be to complain about or find reasons why the suggestion is not feasible. For instance, if your partner comes home from work and suggests going out to dinner with a new couple in town, is your impulsive reaction to say no or to list all the reasons why it is a bad idea? For many individuals who suffer from anxiety, that negative reaction occurs often. Yes, there may be some good reasons why the situation is not optimal, but chances are, the negativity associated with your response has more to do with your own insecurity or anxiety about the upcoming event than anything. So in order to protect ourselves from this, we attempt to dissuade others from engaging in or associating with those events or people that trigger these adverse feelings within.
As with all of these behaviors, the subconscious purpose behind them is to try and avoid experiencing a deeper sense of discomfort and unease. The unfortunate reality is that although there may be temporary relief, these behaviors ultimately result in triggering more anxiety, frustration and disappointment not only within ourselves, but from others as well.
Looking beneath the surface of these behaviors is an integral part of self awareness, growth and development. When our minds are not ready to face certain vulnerabilities and insecurities, it works to protect us with our own ways of coping. Although they can be effective in helping us avoid these more raw and uncomfortable emotions, with time, they are what ultimately stifle us from feeling inner peace and balance.
Take the time and try to understand what it is these behaviors are protecting you from. Being able to consciously experience that raw, vulnerable emotion will help to ease the discomfort and assist in working through that which you have subconsciously spent so much time and energy avoiding.
As time progresses and anxious moments continue to occur, you will no longer feel the need to stay protected. You will be able to acknowledge, label and endure the discomfort, feeling secure in the understanding that like everything else in life, this too shall pass.
If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, we are here to help.
Schedule a free telephone consultation today.
Nikki P. Woods, MSW, LCSW
Nikki Woods is a highly-sought after licensed clinical psychotherapist and founder of the Navesink Wellness Center in Rumson, New Jersey. After earning her Masters Degree at New York University, Nikki dedicated her career to studying the intricacies of the developing female mind. In her practice (both locally and globally), she empowers mothers to better support their daughters’ development, and assists young women in channeling their own voice – one built on self awareness, acceptance and love.
Her intuitive and insightful approach helps clients gain a greater sense of self worth, pursue life goals, improve relationship dysfunction, establish a more defined identity, and celebrate their own unique assets and capabilities. Her work has been featured in top publications such as Forbes and Inc. She works with patients both locally in Rumson, New Jersey as well as globally via her remote psychotherapy offerings.