5 'Red Flags' That Might Mean Anxiety Is Controlling Your Life
This piece was written by Thomas Cushman, a Thought Catalog contributor.
Anyone who lives with anxiety or an anxiety disorder knows that anxiety is strange in how it manifests in daily life. It’s beyond reason or logic, in general, just makes no sense. It is also super sneaky. For those blessed with anxiety like myself, a lot of times it feels more in control than it is until it doesn’t. If we aren’t mindful or aware of how anxiety is affecting us in the present moment, it’s easy for it to kind of work its way onto the main stage and then jump out and yell, “Surprise, I’m here!”
As a recovering agoraphobic, I’ve learned over time that looking for and being aware of warning signs that anxiety is becoming increasingly invasive can spare a lot of distress in the long-run. By looking for certain red flags, anxiety-controlling thoughts and other feelings can be caught early and reeled in before becoming a bigger problem that starts directing major or even minor life choices. The following five signs can be reliable indicators that anxiety is playing more of a part of your life than it needs to:
1. You avoid too many things you know you shouldn’t.
Avoidance is probably the most clear-cut indication that anxiety is playing a large role in your life. Fear induces a fight, flight or freeze response that — for an individual who doesn’t experience excess anxiety — enhances the ability to cope with a given situation. However, for those of us that do live with excess anxiety, it can make us frozen, cause us to run from a frightening situation or even cause a panic attack. So you then start avoiding that coffee shop you and your ex used to frequent. Or you avoid calling your overbearing mother back. Or you avoid checking your email so you don’t have to subject yourself to whatever hell may have broken loose at work. You suddenly realize you avoid a lot of things. You realize your anxiety has gained the power necessary to control where you go and what you do.
2. You worry too much about everything.
Some worry is good. If you didn’t care about anything, you wouldn’t pay your bills, for example. It’s important to worry about the right things in the right amounts. But when the worry takes on a mind of its own, things get a little dicier. Anxiety is a funny thing in that it often feeds off of itself. The more the worry runs wild, the more out of control it will feel. So when the focus of the worry shifts from normal things in normal amounts to worrying night and day about — for example — whether you’re capable enough or are just a living example of imposter syndrome, or whether you’ll find a stable career that doesn’t suck the soul out of you, or whether you’re actually deserving of the healthy, non-toxic love of another quality human being, the worry just starts to take on a life of its own and can become a controlling force in your life.
3. You think about the future too much.
It was the Chinese philosopher Laozi who graced us with the quote, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” When anxiety starts to take control of our thoughts, we start to think more about where we will be tomorrow and less about where are right now. Rather than focusing on the fact that you’re currently on the couch with your significant other, enjoying time together watching your favorite show on Netflix, you’re focusing constantly on what needs to be done to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting, or what laundry still needs to be done, or what you need to do to prepare your breakfast for tomorrow morning. When we start thinking these thoughts all of the time, it exhausts us and keeps us feeling continuously anxious.
4. Your anxiety stops you from chasing what you want.
For those of us with anxiety, our minds seem to throw out a constant stream of what I like to call “what ifs” — or thoughts that focus on future outcomes of events that haven’t even happened yet. These will make the world seem like a scary place. You want to quit your job and work as a freelance writer? But what if you can’t make enough money to pay your bills? Or maybe you want to take a trip to Thailand but you’d have to go alone since none of your friends can go. But what if something bad were to happen? What if you can’t handle such a substantial adventure and wind up lost and alone somewhere? Catastrophizing is the name of the game with ”what ifs.” These thoughts oftentimes lead to self-sabotage and prevent us from living the life we deep down want to live.
5. You notice your anxiety makes you feel like “less” than you are.
This can be the most draining piece for someone with anxiety. While we know it shouldn’t, anxiety can sometimes cause our self-esteem to take a hit. It makes you doubt whether or not you’re capable of handling whatever you face. It can make the uncertainty of the future feel like it’s working against you. It can make you feel like everyone else has such a handle on life when you subjectively struggle on the daily with trying to keep your fear in check. Most days this intense self-doubt isn’t a problem, but when it starts to appear more and more frequently, it’s a sign that anxiety is not only taking over our thoughts, but our self-perception as well. When we start to feel that anxiety defines who we are as a person, that’s a sign that anxiety has taken on a much more dominant role in our lives than it needs to.
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Unsplash photo via Brooke Cagle