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The Subtle Signs of Anxiety


We all know someone who is affected by anxiety.If it is not us personally, chances are we know someone who experiences it.

Perhaps not at a pathological level, however anxiety can be tricky to manage even at problematic levels.But what about those who don’t even know they experience anxiety? “How can you not know you have anxiety?” I hear you ask! Well it’s simple really.We all know that the common trait of anxiety is worrying excessively (either about one thing, or multiple); but there are actually many more, more subtle symptoms that we might not necessarily associate with problematic anxiety.

Why do people do this? The most simplified reason is that sometimes people subjugate themselves, that is, put more importance in what others’ want (or what they think others’ want), rather than make those decisions that are right for themselves. In the short term this often maintains the status-quo and a sense of calm because we get to avoid all that unpleasantness that comes from potentially going against what others want us to do, or we avoid the apprehension that comes along with taking risks. But in the long term, how happy can we be if we only live for others? How will we ever get our own needs met?


First, avid plan-making can be a sign of anxiety. And I don’t mean “what are we doing on the holidays?” type planning. More along the lines of contingency planning: “what if this happens? What about that? If this happens, maybe we will…”. Sound familiar? This type of cognitive process is commonly seen in diagnoses of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which is the clinical name for “worrying about lots of different things”. Essentially we spend a significant amount of time making backup plans for our backup plans, which takes away from all those other more important things we would rather be doing.


Secondly, let's talk about irritability. Does it ever seem like sometimes everything grinds your gears? I’m not talking about things that are genuinely irritating, but things that ordinarily you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at. If so, have you ever noticed that these things all seem to happen in fairly close succession? This too can be a sign of anxiety. Sometimes when we have been experiencing ongoing stress or problematic anxiety we become so tightly wound that we find ourselves snapping at everyone and everything even if we don’t “feel” particularly overwhelmed (or if we have been trying to ignore it!).


Next we have fatigue. Not the kind you get when you’ve been moving house all day up three flights of stairs and you are physically drained. I’m talking about mental fatigue, which is in a whole different category. Anyone who has experienced this before (which is most of us at some point) knows that mental fatigue can feel like a crippling weight in your mind that seeps into everything you do. It comes from – you guessed it – overwork. Whether consciously or not, mental fatigue is a sign from our brains that they have been in overdrive and need a break. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where overwork is just a fact of life (hello anyone who has ever completed exams!), and these are fairly easy to recognise and manage and we can usually see the light at the end of the tunnel. Other times the reasons are less obvious, and it can seem like there is nothing particularly major going on, but at the same time everything is “a bit much”.


Of course this isn't an exhaustive list, however these are some of the more common complaints I hear. The important thing to keep in mind is that our brains are constantly sending us messages, but often these messages can get lost in. We are too busy; things could be worse; other people’s needs are bigger than ours right now; and so on. However if we don’t start listening these messages will get louder until we are forced to listen.


If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to admin@youmatterpsychologists.com.au and we will answer any questions you may have.


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