Anxiety & OCD

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Anxiety and OCD symptoms can be a natural response to stress and/or trauma, and it is a common experience that many people have at some point in their lives. However, for some people, anxiety can become overwhelming and interfere with their daily functioning. This can happen when we have been exposed to certain stressors in our life and our biological impulses of fight or flight have been thwarted.

Believe it or not, almost all of us have experienced a situation where our nervous system and sense of safety felt threatened and we were unable to protect ourselves or get out of the situation. We can also experience these same feelings if we witness someone else go through something extremely stressful or traumatic, and our system will feel more threatened if it is someone we care about or know well.

In today’s stressful world, even if we feel we don’t have anything truly “stressful” going on, our nervous system experiences stress and overwhelm pretty regularly, maybe even every single day. Driving in traffic, living through the covid pandemic, and then managing the frantic pace of everyday life could easily create anxiety symptoms or at least keep our nervous system in a chronically activated state where we feel we can’t calm down or relax. In the worst-case scenario, where we have actually experienced something traumatic or scary, we may experience symptoms that make us feel like we are still in the anxiety-provoking or fearful situation. One example of this is if we were in a fatal car crash but survived, it would be common for us to have extreme panic attacks afterwards, as the frightening situation happened too fast for our nervous system to really process it.

Here’s another example. If we grew up in a chaotic household with people fighting or yelling (or maybe there was just a lot going on in the household) then our nervous system will learn to be hyper-vigilant and will be turned “on” all the time. In this example, our nervous system essentially was trained and wired to “be on alert”, to assess for danger, and to constantly monitor the environment and other people. As an adult, this will often look like needing to stay busy or productive all the time, ADD or ADHD type symptoms, difficulty relaxing or calming down (which often impacts sleep), craving chaos or drama, and being very tuned into other’s emotions and experiences (think highly sensitive person traits). Those that are really good at “reading a room” or are really good at reading other people typically come from an environment in childhood where they had to constantly be assessing for danger/problems or were always trying to please their parents or meet their parents needs.

Here is a more detailed description of the emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms that a person with anxiety may experience:

Emotional Symptoms: 

1. Excessive worry: People with anxiety often worry alot, have irrational thoughts, tend to over-analyze or over-think, or worry about things that they are trying to solve or they feel helpless about. It’s also common for someone experiencing anxiety to dwell on things they feel like they can’t control, or to be seen as “controlling” by others.

2. Nervousness: Anxiety can also cause a person to feel nervousness, or a general sense of unease or apprehension. A person may feel nervousness about how they are perceived by others, or they may be nervous about the intentions of others or feel insecure about the world around them.

3. Panic or fear: A person experiencing anxiety may also have a general sense of dread, fear, or even panic. They may not always know how/what the fearful feeling is related to, or they may wake up in the morning feeling that way with no apparent cause or reason. Other times, they may be afraid of something specific, such as spiders or flying, or they may generally feel fearful of other people or their own future.

4. Irritability: Anxiety can also make a person feel irritable, on edge, or have a short fuse. They may snap at others or become easily annoyed, lose patience, struggle with mundane tasks, or even escalate to yelling or arguing relatively quickly.

5. Avoidance: Some people with anxiety may avoid situations or activities that they feel could trigger their anxiety. This could be avoiding people, places, and certain situations; all of this could lead to isolating and not going out in public much. A person could also be avoiding via escapism, which could be someone doing anything they enjoy for long periods of time (ie, scrolling Instagram, playing video games, watching Netflix, etc). It could also be avoiding by using substances such as drugs or alcohol to numb, disconnect, or dissociate from one’s present life or circumstances.

Physical Symptoms: 

1. Muscle tension: Anxiety can cause a person's muscles to become tense and tight. This can lead to headaches, neck and back pain, and general discomfort. This type of constriction in the muscles can also cause heaviness or tightness in the chest or limbs, create a “sinking” feeling in the stomach or chest, or make a person feel like they are weighed down or even like there is a rock in their chest.

2. Restlessness: A person with anxiety may find it difficult to relax or sit still, or in it’s extreme form, a person may feel like they want to “jump” out of their skin. A person experiencing restlessness may feel the need to constantly move or fidget, or feel like they need to stay “on the go” or stay busy.

3. Rapid heartbeat: Anxiety can cause a person's heart to race, or create a pounding or pulsing feeling in the chest, which can make someone feel as though they are having a heart attack. This could actually lead to a panic attack or, even if no real threat is present, make someone feel as if they are in real danger.

4. Sweating or shortness of breath: Sweating excessively, which can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, can also be another symptom of anxiety. Or, it’s also common that feeling anxious can make it difficult for a person to catch their breath, which can lead to hyperventilation, holding your breath without thinking about it, or a feeling of suffocation.

5. Nausea and digestive issues: Anxiety can also cause a person to feel nauseous, feel like they need to throw up, experience dizziness, or have digestive issues, such as diarrhea, constipation, or IBS symptoms.

6. Increased or decreased appetite: Those with anxiety also sometimes have changes in appetite, for instance, some people eat more because they are eating as a way to numb out or distract themselves, or they may just have low appetite because they are so stressed or worried.

7. Sleep issues: Anxiety can cause a person to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or cause them to wake up much earlier than they are supposed to. It’s also common for those experiencing anxiety to have racing or ruminating thoughts when trying to go to sleep at night, or they may even dread sleep when they feel really tired because they struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s also common that a person could have nightmares.

Cognitive Symptoms:

1. Racing thoughts: Anxiety can cause a person's thoughts to race, making it difficult for them to focus or concentrate.

2. Negative thoughts: Anxiety can also cause a person to have negative thoughts about themselves, others, or the world around them. They may feel as though they are not good enough or that they are constantly in danger.

3. Catastrophizing: Anxiety can cause a person to catastrophize, or imagine the worst-case scenario in any given situation.

4. Obsessive thoughts or rituals: Some people with anxiety may experience obsessive thoughts or compulsions, such as constantly checking to make sure doors are locked, hand washing, or obsessing over things that they feel like they can’t control or things that are unknown.

It is important to note that anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, and some people may experience symptoms that are not listed here. If you are experiencing anxiety that is interfering with your daily life, reach out to us; our therapists here at Resilience Counseling & Wellness are highly trained and have a lot of experience in this area!