Anxiety disorders aren't always just nail-biting worry—they can manifest in some pretty unexpected ways, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The issues and symptoms listed here are certainly not exclusive to anxiety, but if you find yourself nodding emphatically as you read along, it might be time to talk to your doctor.
1. Everything upsets your stomach.
If gas, bloating, constipation, cramps, and/or diarrhea are a regular part of your life, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is extremely common in people with anxiety disorders. Stress and worry can exacerbate IBS symptoms, which, in turn, can make life a lot more stressful.
2. You can’t sleep.
The day is done and it’s time to hit the sack, but your body is just not cooperating. Your mind is racing, turning over a million little things or the same thing over and over, and your heart is pounding. As with IBS, anxiety can worsen insomnia, and the resulting sleep deprivation can make anxiety worse.
3. You pre-game every party.
It’s one thing to have a glass of wine in the evening. It’s another to feel like you need a drink to face the stress of parties and other social situations. There’s a word for this—self-medicating—and it’s very common among people with social anxiety. Be careful with this one; while alcohol may help you relax for a few hours, it can definitely make things worse in the long run.
4. You need a massage.
Our bodies evolved a terrific defense system to keep us safe from predators. When a threat arises, our muscles tense, preparing us to run away. The problem is that these days we’re surrounded by minor stressors, and it’s no longer socially acceptable to literally stand up and run away. So we clench, and we clench, and we stay clenched. People with anxiety disorders are especially prone to muscle tension, spasm, and pain, as their defense systems are on perpetual high alert.
5. Work is really hard.
Even small tasks become challenges when you can’t stay focused. Difficulty concentrating is a hallmark of both anxiety and depression, and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: You can’t focus, so your work starts to slip, so you get stressed, which leads to more trouble focusing.
6. Your headache just won’t quit.
Scientists are still teasing out the complex relationships between anxiety, depression, and pain. They know that people with anxiety disorders are more prone to both tension headaches (which can be caused by clenching) and migraines. Fortunately, if properly diagnosed, medication for anxiety and depression can help reduce pain.
7. You’re winded all the time.
Shortness of breath is a classic anxiety symptom, especially for people with panic disorders. But it doesn’t always take the form of hyperventilating or wheezing; many people with anxiety report experiencing dyspnea, or air hunger, in which they feel like they can’t fill their lungs, no matter how deeply they inhale.
8. You can’t let the little things go.
Are you still fretting over the joke you made to your coworker two days ago that landed flat, or that insensitive thing your boyfriend said last week? Ruminating—going over and over things in your head, the same way ruminants like cows re-chew their food—is a form of obsessing, and is very common in people with anxiety.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.