Anxiety can be a nebulous emotion. Sometimes it’s obvious you’re worrying — even Doctor Obvious could diagnose you if you’re spending four sleepless hours each night fretting over your big move. But sufferers of generalized anxiety might not be able to identify obvious triggers or realize some of their worst habits stem from the stress. You may recognize your odd, changing behavior, but you can’t identify why — and the uncertainty only creates more stress.
Here are six behaviors that signal that your anxiety needs more attention, or even the help of a professional therapist.
Too Much Alcohol
Anxiety and alcohol abuse often come hand in hand: research suggests that 20 percent of those affected with social anxiety disorder abuse alcohol. The correlation makes sense when you consider that social anxiety lowers 4% for every drink. People suffering from anxiety disorders often feel alcohol lowers their inhibitions and decreases their stress. So, bottoms up — right?
Except anxiety can be exacerbated by prolonged drinking, which can dramatically increase your stress over time. In a worst-case scenario, drinking can even change your brain’s structure, making you more susceptible to anxiety attacks. Adding insult to injury, prolonged drinking can create a physical dependence on alcohol, causing stress-inducing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit.
Whether they’re criticizing themselves or others, some anxious people cover up their worries by finding fault with everything. This pattern might be a learned one that goes back decades — research shows critical parenting fosters anxious children.
To understand this, think about how an anxious person’s brain operates. Excessive worrying can literally change the way you experience reality. Everything is frightening. Everything is more difficult. And everything you’re doing is wrong. This overdose of scary emotions transform into criticism. The mind posits, “Well, if things were different, we wouldn’t have to worry so much.”
Soon, these thoughts manifest externally. For many anxiety sufferers, self-criticism provides a balm to the thoughts whirling inside their head: beating themselves up for their perceived (but not actual!) flaws helps temper their scary emotions in the moment. And becoming hypercritical of your surroundings — and your friends and family — provides an illusion of control.
But ultimately, hypercriticism will only prove to further your anxiety. People don’t typically like to be criticized, so they may distance themselves. Looking at the world through narrowed eyes makes it a more stressful place to live.
Do you love your best friends — or do you need your best friends? A strong support system is a must for people suffering from anxiety. But if you notice yourself clinging to your pals or partner, consider taking a step back: your behaviors might be stemming from stress.
Codependency amplifies your connection to the point of obsession. You might find yourself calling them frequently, wondering where they are. Or you focus intently on their activities and problems. In a sense, this is a form of control spurred by worrying. Frequent, almost obsessive contact calms the images of accidents and loss that wheel through your mind.
Not only could codependent behavior ruin your most precious relationships, it also feeds your anxiety. Working through your troubles with a qualified therapist can help you decrease your stress and save your friendships.
Cup After Cup of Coffee
While anxious people may not chug coffee to fend off a worried mind the same way they do booze, too much caffeine consumption may increase your symptoms. Caffeine-induced anxiety is a clinically diagnosable condition, and a cup of joe can cause stress reactions in your cardiovascular and neuroendocrine systems.
But some anxious people do use coffee to cover up their stress: the sleep deprived. There’s nothing wrong with chugging down some caffeine to wake up in the morning, but if you’re drinking too much too often, consider why. If worries keep you tossing and turning all night, powering through the day on caffeine alone can mask your weary eyes. Desperately need that warm brew every morning? It might be time to start working through the root cause of your insomnia with a therapist so you can skip the multiple a.m. shots of caffeine.
Let’s be clear: just because anxiety can manifest as “overdramatic” blow-ups doesn’t mean you’re actually being dramatic. Your “over-the-top” responses may feel entirely rational — to you. But if multiple people have claimed your reactions are disproportionate to the problem, consider that there might be an underlying issue.
Anxiety can cause a brimming worry that manifests in your body, kicks your brain into overdrive, and makes every minor issue feel like a really, really big deal. Losing the keys to your car feels like the end of the world. A few minutes late for dinner reservations can be a tragedy. And you react according to that heightened state.
As reasonable as your responses may feel, if you find you’re regularly exploding with stress over tiny little things, look to your anxiety as a root cause. Your mental health is manageable — and when you address it, you may find that life is more manageable too.
Sometimes, those anxiety-derived dramatic outbursts can take a concerning direction. Many sufferers of anxiety — but particularly men — react to triggers with anger. After all, at its root, anxiety is fear. Fear is terrifying and can feel like a threat. Anger may be a natural response to a threat, but anxiety turns tiny things into big threats — making anger feel omnipresent. For many men, anger feels like a more acceptable emotion that stress and worry.
If you’re lashing out at the smallest things, consider the source of your fury. There’s rarely good reason to be angry so frequently — and chances are excellent your outbursts obscure a raft of other concerns. Checking in with your emotions may uncover the true stressors behind your sudden anger.
Need Help Controlling Your Anxiety?
Pay attention to these six behavioral cues, which might indicate underlying anxiety. When you’re drinking too much coffee, chugging too much beer or just reacting strongly to things you know aren’t that big of a deal, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Getting treatment for your anxiety could change your life.