According to a study by Current Biology, people with anxiety problems might have brains that are fundamentally different than their peers.
But what does that mean in the real world? How do these neurological differences affect how people with anxiety problems see and interpret the things around them?
Here are just a few common assumptions of people with jittery hands:
1. Everyone is talking about you.
Imagine that you’re walking into an office full of people. As soon as you clear the threshold, everyone goes silent. In reality, Dave from accounting just claimed that Jon Snow was a better character than Daenerys Targaryen, and everyone was shocked into speechlessness by how wrong he was.
It had nothing to do with you, and you have no reason to feel awkward or embarrassed. If you have anxiety, however, you can’t shake the feeling that Dave was saying something about you and that feeling can completely consume you and dominate your thoughts for hours.
2. Things are safer inside a blanket cocoon.
Everyone has days when they’d rather stay under the covers than venture outdoors like a responsible adult, but for people with anxiety problems, these days can turn into months or even years of avoiding the real world.
Studies have shown that group therapy can be beneficial to people with anxiety-related social disorders, but that does require leaving the house, so it can become a catch-22 of mental health. You need social interaction to make you less nervous, but your nervousness stems from social interaction. What can you do? Build a blanket fort and forget about it.
3. Those pencils need to be lined up exactly right.
It’s estimated that 1.6 percent of the population suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While anxiety doesn’t cause OCD and vice versa, they can often join together in a terrible twosome that wreaks havoc on a person’s emotional stability. Did you turn off the stove?
Did you pull up both socks to the same height on your ankles? Did you stomp your feet exactly twice before stepping off the doormat? If these kinds of intrusive thoughts sound familiar, you may have anxiety problems.
4. Everyone is out to get you.
Paranoia is commonly misunderstood as something that only happens to schizophrenics and people in spy movies. In reality, Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD) is a neurological condition that can develop in anyone, and some studies suggest that people with anxiety problems and other mood disorders are at a greater risk than most.
According to the DSM-IV-TR, while PPD only affects 0.5 – 2.5 percent of the general population, that number might be as high as 30 percent among psychiatric patients. Diagnosing the problem can be difficult since people are so reluctant to talk about it.
5. If you can’t do it right, you shouldn’t do it at all.
Anxiety can manifest as extreme perfectionism among people with high-stress lives. The stress doesn’t have to be external, either; they can be putting the pressure on themselves to meet some kind of self-imposed goal or standard.
The flip side to this obsessive need for perfection is that many anxious people become despondent when perfection is unattainable. They get moody, mopey or lifeless when things inevitably fail to live up to their visions. There’s a reason why anxiety and depression are often linked together in mood disorder studies. It’s a two-for-one special in terms of awful.
6. The world is a trigger waiting to happen.
Some people aren’t born with anxiety. They form it after a traumatic or upsetting experience that leaves them with unresolved feelings of fear, guilt, worry and tension. These people often develop triggers that can rear up unexpectedly and leave them scrambling to deal with things like flashbacks and panic attacks.
Think of it like an invisible wound that they’re forced to walk around with despite the fact that one sharp table edge could re-open their stitches. You can’t see the damage for yourself, but it’s the reason that they’re walking so gingerly and peering so suspiciously at your cherry oak.
7. You’re never good enough.
Most anxiety stems from a place of fear. You aren’t pretty enough for your date; you aren’t smart enough for your job; you aren’t confident enough for that social gathering. While some people are able to glide through life like Nicki Minaj, individuals with anxiety problems feel more like Miley Cyrus.
It can be a difficult attitude to adjust and an even harder one to understand. Why does that skinny girl keep insisting that she’s fat? Because her anxiety is warping her perceptions and blocking her path to reason.
These are just a few ways that people with anxiety problems see the world. Some are big and disastrous; others are quiet and insidious; all of them contribute to a fundamental difference in perception.
If any of these symptoms strike a chord with you, contact a mental health professional and have a talk with them about anxiety.
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