Anxiety tricks you into believing you are not safe,
so you are always worried.
Anxiety’s voice is loud, hard to ignore, and ever-present,
so you are often distracted, tense, angry, and down.
Anxiety is deceiving, leading you to believe that at any moment, something or someone can sabotage the stability you’ve worked so hard to earn,
so it’s hard for you to let your guard down.
Anxiety creates an illusion that it’s all on you…whatever it is…be it your family’s happiness, your own outcomes, or your company’s success,
so your mind is constantly busy, your fight or flight system is working on overdrive,
and you are exhausted.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. That’s almost 20% of the United States.
- Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of adolescents between 13 and 18 years old.
- Research shows that those with untreated anxiety disorders are at higher risk:
- to perform poorly in school or at work
- miss out on social experiences, taking a hit on their relationships
- engage in substance abuse
what is Anxiety?
Anxiety is often understood as the classic symptoms—constant worrying, overthinking things, fear, panic attacks, etc. However, anxiety is a tricky phenomenon and often shows up in ways you wouldn’t expect. It’s like anxiety is wearing a mask, making it seem like you’re just angry/insecure/etc., when really anxiety is at the core.
Anxiety’s Many Masks
The ways anxiety manifests can be confusing, leading one to believe there’s a different issue at the core of how they’re thinking and behaving. Attributing your thoughts and behavior to the wrong problem makes it hard to get the right support.
Do any of the following “masks” apply to you?
The Anger Anxiety Mask
Anxiety can manifest as anger (or rage). When we aren’t able to identify and deal with our anxiety effectively, it often morphs into anger.
Why anger? Our brains tend to feel the emotion of anger quickly and easily, otherwise known as an anger bias. This is an evolutionary function—when we’re angry, we’re usually empowered to do something about whatever is upsetting us. In other words, if we respond to our anger in a functional way, it leads to action and change that will relieve the anger.
However, our brains’ anger bias is often wrong, as the anger is usually an easier emotion to experience than another emotion that is too difficult to deal with, such as anxiety.
The Control Freak Anxiety Mask
Anxiety has a way of making you feel like nothing is in your control. If you feel like you don’t have control, you may overcompensate by trying to control everything and everyone. This may make you seem like a control freak when anxiety is probably what’s really at the core of your actions. Since controlling everyone and everything is impossible, your anxiety may actually increase, thus starting the cycle all over again.
The Perfectionist Anxiety Mask
High standards aren’t a bad thing — but if your standards are so high that you can’t meet them without great difficulty or you can’t actually meet them at all, that’s perfectionism. The feeling of constantly trying to do better, get more done, and do all the things you think you should be able to do, can be indicative of anxiety. If trying to meet your high standards leads you to feel angry, depressed, or frustrated, anxiety is likely at the core.
The Busy Anxiety Mask
Have you noticed busyness has become a status symbol in many ways? “The common response to “how are you doing?” is often “busy!”—said with a sense of pride. While being successful at work and volunteering and doing everything under the sun can fill you up, it can also be an attempt to numb tough emotions, such as anxiety.
If you balk at the idea of using numbing, to avoid feeling tough emotions, consider this: In, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes about numbing behaviors that we use as armor against vulnerability: “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
The Bitchy Anxiety Mask
Anxiety can make the most well-intentioned people come across as impolite. This might look like not responding to emails or texts, not returning phone calls, leaving a party without saying goodbye, not acknowledging an acquaintance in public, laughing at inappropriate times, dominating a conversation or not talking at all, or lashing out in anger at those you love the most. The person on the receiving end doesn’t usually know that anxiety is fueling your actions, leading them to respond negatively, which can yield even more anxiety.
The Self-Centered Anxiety Mask
Anxiety can feel all-consuming—whether you’re being consumed by anxious thoughts, emotions, the physical aftermath of anxiety, or all three at once—anxiety often feels like the dominant part of your experience. Because of this, those that struggle with anxiety find it hard to ignore their symptoms—which sometimes translates to seeming self-centered as they continually focus on their worries, problems, or reactions to anxiety.
The ADD/Confusion/Forgetfulness Anxiety Mask
Anxiety can do a number on your memory. Anxiety might make you forget a common word as you’re talking, miss appointments, or forget to complete tasks. This is because anxiety has been shown to affect our working memory—the part of our memory that helps us keep things in mind as we actively work with them. We need our working memory to be working well in order to solve problems effectively and manage incoming information—in other words, we need our working memory to have an effective conversation or complete tasks. When our working memory is taking a hit due to anxiety, it can cause us to make mistakes, lose our train of thought, and unable to concentrate well. In short, your brain is laser-focused on your anxiety, not at the task or conversation at hand.
The Overreacting Anxiety Mask
Because an anxious mind is prone to catastrophic and irrational thinking, people can overreact to seemingly benign situations because their anxious mind is focused on worst-case scenarios, irrational thoughts, and other cognitive distortions. Anxiety can take over your logical thought by making you believe that something horrible will happen, so you’re constantly fixated on the worst-case scenario.
The Overwhelmed Anxiety Mask
If one had to sum up anxiety with one word, overwhelmed might be it. Anxiety’s tendency to be ever-present is overwhelming in itself, making anxiety sufferers seem overwhelmed easily. Anxiety causes not only overwhelming emotions but also your brain actually being overwhelmed, as in its resources get tapped out. For example, during times of intense anxiety, your brain doesn’t have the resources to focus on things like if your bladder is actually full or not, making you need to run to the bathroom while your brain focuses on your fight or flight response.
The Insecurity Anxiety Mask - seeking reassurance all the time
Anxiety goes hand-in-hand with automatic negative thoughts. Do any of these sound familiar?
- I’m such an idiot.
- How could I do that? They’ll never like me now.
- I suck at life/relationships/parties/making friends/dating.
- I’m not good enough.
- I don’t belong.
Understandably, if these automatic negative thoughts are running through your head all the time, they get louder when you’re anxious. Which leads to you seeking reassurance from others in a way that can come off as annoying. This can cause you to experience more anxiety, and likely more tension in your relationships.
The “I-can’t-trust-anyone” Anxiety Mask
At its core, trust requires uncertainty…and uncertainty is hell for those who struggle with anxiety. Your inability to trust others (or yourself even) can lead to fighting, extra work for you, and—you guessed it—more anxiety.
The Martyr Anxiety Mask
Because it’s hard to trust others, you may become a martyr about all of the things you have to do because you don’t trust anyone else to do it right.
It’s hard enough to live with these “anxiety-masks” and even harder when you or your loved ones can’t see past them. When anxiety is left untreated, on top of the hardship it creates personally, it can make it hard to be in a relationship, as being spontaneous, carefree, and relaxed seem impossible.
What Else is Under the Anxiety Mask?
Anxiety is the result of a phenomenon where your brain gets hijacked by your anxiety, tricking you into feeling you are in danger when you aren’t. This can wreak havoc on your thoughts, emotions, and your body.
Psychological effects on your mind:
- negative thought spirals – one negative and anxious thought leads to another, and another, and another…
- rumination – unable to turn off your thoughts about certain experiences
- never-ending “what if…” thoughts
- deer in the headlights effect – your brain freezes as a result of you being overwhelmed
- questioning every decision
- a sense of dread
- fearing the worst will happen
- triggers your flight or fight response
- difficulty concentrating or distraction
- isolating from family, friends, social gatherings
- avoiding certain places
- feeling tense, nervous, or unable to relax
- the spotlight effect: feeling that everyone can tell how anxious or flawed you are (they can’t!)
- feeling that worrying helps prevent bad things from happening
- a constant need for reassurance from others
- often worrying that others are upset with you
- worrying about things that might happen in the future, even in the absence of any indication that they will
- suicidal thoughts
Physical effects on your body:
- dizziness or feeling light-headed
- nausea, or a turning feeling in your stomach
- heart palpitations (fast, thumping, or irregular heart beat)
- faster breathing or hyperventilation
- feeling too hot or too cold
- shortness of breath
- dry mouth
- feeling restless or unable to sit still
- chronic pain: headaches,
- back/neck/shoulder aches
- difficulty sleeping and/or frequent waking
- grinding your teeth
- frequent urination
- digestive issues
- chest pain
- changes in your sex drive
- worrying that you’re losing touch with reality
- feeling disconnected from yourself, like you’re watching someone else
All of this can add up to a huge impact on your life.
As a result of anxiety, you may experience:
- codependency or boundary issues
- parenting problems
- substance abuse
- trouble making or keeping friends
- a strained marriage
- problems at work or struggling to keep a job
- inability to try new things
- taking care of yourself
- being able to relax and enjoy down-time
On top of all of this, you likely feel immense frustration that anxiety is taking over your life, despite your best efforts to quiet your mind.
If anxiety interferes with your daily life—whether it’s adding stress to your relationships, messing with your sleep or health, hampering your work, or keeping you from pursuing things that are important to yo—that’s good reason to seek counseling.
If seeking counseling is anxiety provoking in itself, knowing what to expect (link to that page) can help. A free 15-minute phone consultation (hyperlink to schedule that) is a great way to ask questions.
How Counseling for Anxiety Can Help
Overcoming anxiety can be thought of as the act of becoming comfortable with discomfort. If that sounds impossible, counseling can help.
Counseling for anxiety involves:
- developing coping skills that work for you
- figuring out what the root of your anxiety is
- helping you understand your anxiety and its symptoms
- providing emotional support
- giving you language and tools to explain your anxiety to loved ones
- addressing other issues that may be at play such as depression, codependency, parenting concerns, or unresolved trauma (link to those pages)