9 Key Ways To Tell If You Have Anxiety Or You’re Just Feeling Anxious

You probably know that you can be depressed without having depression and you can feel anxious without having anxiety. But how do you really know? When actual mood disorders and mental health diagnoses are synonymous with real life feelings, things can get confusing. But there are actual ways to tell if you have anxiety or if you’re just feeling anxious. Everybody has anxiety about something sooner or later: it’s a normal human feeling. Life can be stressful, cause us worry, thus bringing up a feeling of anxiety. Typical, par for the course, nothing to sweat about, right? However, when it colors every aspect of your life and is present more often than it’s not, then maybe you can consider that a red flag. In all truth, you might not know what life is like without anxiety or feeling anxious because everything is going through that filter of high stakes and panic. Deep down, you know that’s not normal and it’s possible to have a life without anxiety pressing on your brain constantly, but how?

Since it’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, it’s hard to suss out when it’s a cause for alarm and that it’s time to seek out help. By all means, I am not advocating for self-diagnosis–if you feel like you might have anxiety, please get the help you need from an actual professional. But if you need some validation to treat whatever’s going on in your brain as something real that deserves confronting and healing (it is and it does!), these are nine signs what’s going on in your brain is an anxiety disorder, not you just feeling anxious.


You're Self Aware To A Fault

A big LOL to everyone who says that you should know yourself because, like, you probably know yourself maybe a little *too* well, if that's possible. Everything you do and say has been personally examined, scrutinized, then cross-examined by you. Anxiety might make it hard for you to be around other people because they can't turn off the critical part of your brain that's judging everything you do. You can't be around people or do a simple task when you know someone is watching you because you're already watching you so intensely. If you're judging yourself this much, imagine what other people must think, right? It makes everything more difficult when you can't NOT think about yourself, what you're doing, and what it all must mean because it has to mean something (and it's usually pretty negative). Feeling anxious is a more focused worry about something specific outside of yourself rather than an overall scrutinizing of yourself.

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It Gets In The Way Of Your Daily Life

There's nothing more frustrating than having anxiety about your anxiety. Even on your "good days" the good mood is clouded by your anticipation of when and if your anxiety is going to rear it's ugly head and wreck your day. There are few facets of your life that are untouched by your anxiety to the point where it can get in the way of your daily life. For some people, it can get in the way of interacting with others, going to work, or focusing in school because nothing else takes that primary seat of focus. It colors everything you do and it's always in the background in a negative way. It's just you and your anxiety chilling out. Or not chilling out. You know what I mean.

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Your Body Reacts To Your Anxiety

Feeling anxious is a full-body experience. Your body feels like you just worked out, so you're extra sore, but you also can't stop moving because you feel restless. Your anxiety manifests itself in physical symptoms. If you're just feeling anxious, when you aren't a person who has anxiety, it feels more like a feeling than something that manifests itself physically. Anxiety is never a small thing for you and it's taxing on your whole body when it's all done. Everyone's experience is different in how it manifests exactly, but the fact that you have physical symptoms of something that originally started in your brain is a fair sign that you potentially have anxiety instead of an anxious feeling.

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You Have A Difficult Time Getting To Sleep And Staying Asleep

Will the physical symptoms ever stop? Whether it's your inability to get your body to settle or your mind to stop racing, sleep eludes you. I've seen that meme where you try to get to sleep, but your brain remembers something (usually something specific that happened in the past of relatively no consequence now, but is now it seems to be of the utmost importance), which is funny and all, but it's a very real thing that happens to people with an anxiety disorder. Did you know that your bodies NEED sleep? And that when you don't sleep, your body suffers and your anxiety could actually get worse in this weird cycle that just feeds itself? It's the worst. Regular anxious feelings might make it hard to sleep, but if it's on a fairly regular basis, it's probably something more than a feeling.

Source: iStock

Your Anxiety Never Goes Away

You don't have to constantly be in a state of panic or anxiousness for it to "never go away." Sure, there may be some spikes and triggers that cause an episode. Check in with yourself about what level your anxiety is at throughout your day. If you actually have anxiety, there's a good likelihood that your anxiety never dips below maybe a five on a scale of 1 to 10. It doesn't have to be charging your day one hundred percent, but even when you aren't "feeling" anxious per se, there's a constant low hum underneath. There's usually some anxious chatter underscoring your every day activities. Your life has very few moments free of anxiety.

Source: iStock

You Can't Just 'Get Over It'

The difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety is that one is more easily surmountable than the other. If you have anxiety, with tools that you gain in therapy, you can sense when an episode is about to happen and take care of yourself during it in order to come out on the other side relatively okay. When you feel anxious as someone who does not have an anxiety disorder, it's more easily surmountable with tools already at your disposal. Basically, one feels like running to catch a bus and the other one feels like training for and then running a half marathon in terms of the effort and energy it takes to handle it.

Source: iStock

Your Know Your Reaction Is Not In Correct Proportion To Whatever Triggered It

The way I think of it is like an allergy. If you have an allergy to pet dander, you objectively know that cat hair isn't going to cause your body harm, but it doesn't mean that your body isn't going to react to it like it is. You have an allergy! It doesn't make much sense, even if you intellectually understand that your reaction is disproportional to the trigger, but it's present. In the moment, when it happens, it feels like the realest real feeling. Forgetting to grab a change of clothes for the rest of your day shouldn't derail your thought process or wreck your whole day, but there you are, in your car, panicking about it. Don't judge yourself for having a different reaction to something "normal" if you know this happens to you. People might say you're being irrational, and let them - they don't know, but it's probably a symptom that you have an anxiety disorder.

Source: iStock

Everything Has To Be Perfect, No Matter What

The word "perfect" is relative. In essence, things need to be a certain way or you're going to quite literally lose your mind. You get through life managing your relative composure with compulsive behaviors, obsession, and extreme perfectionism, which are fine coping tactics to manage your anxiety--at this point they're probably categorized as survival skills--but are usually symptomatic of having anxiety. You're using your perfectionism to quiet the buzzing of your brain underneath everything because once everything is perfect, you can finally feel like your brain can settle. Your brain should be able to settle whehter or not something goes exactly the way you need them to be.

Source: iStock

You Get Anxious About Things Your Friends Don't Even Think About

Your friends won't even notice the look a stranger gave you and they're not bothered when the volume isn't on a multiple of five, or something, but these things matter to you so much. You over-analyze things your friends see as no big deal, but to you, they're the biggest deal. Even when it does register with your friends, you have a difficult time letting it go way past when they've already gotten over it. The way your body manages stress is to hold on to it for a lot longer and churn it over a few times whereas your neurotypical friends can move past it and not feel that anxious feeling so intensley over a longer period of time.

Source: iStock

Do you have anxiety? Or are you just anxious sometimes? Did this help you tell the difference? Let us know in the comments!

You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.

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