It’s not always immediately obvious when someone you care about is suffering from anxiety: not everyone will be vocal about their feelings and many will actively try to disguise their suffering.
Research by the mental health charity Mind shows that four out of five 18-34 year-olds admit to putting on a brave face when they feel anxious. Children might also display feelings of anxiety in a different way to adults, so if you’re a parent you need to know the signs.
Here are just some of the things to look out for with friends, family and co-workers:
Anxiety and illness
Anxiety often leads to physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pains. With panic attacks, people may feel physical symptoms such as chest pains and shortness of breath, but not be aware they’re having a panic attack. Anxiety can also make certain physical illnesses such as eczema much worse.
‘For some people, the focus of anxiety might be physical health meaning they spend lots of time worrying that they may have a serious illness or feeling very conscious of any physical health problems,’ says Rachel Boyd, Information Manager at mental health charity Mind.
People suffering from anxiety often feel tired because their bodies over produce adrenaline, which switches them into flight or fight mode. People with anxiety may also find it affects their ability to sleep, as anxiety can often feel worse at night when there are less distractions, according to Anxiety UK.
‘Often people who are anxious may either sleep excessively or, alternatively, many people with anxiety have problems falling asleep or wake up several times in a night,’ says Dr Silver. ‘Some anxious people have nightmares or night terrors.’
Excessive need for reassurance
Anxiety has an effect on both the body and mind. Psychological symptoms include feeling nervous and tense, thinking about a worrying situation over and over again and feeling like other people are noticing your anxiety.
‘You may also notice that someone asks you for lots of reassurance, or seems much less confident about things they’d normally be ok with,’ adds Boyd.
Anxiety and eating disorders
Feeling anxious can have a knock-on effect to eating habits, so sufferers may eat more or less than they previously did. As a result of stress, children may change their eating behaviours too by restricting their food, bingeing or purging.
‘Often people who are very anxious will be unable to eat as they may have no appetite,’ says Dr Silver. ‘Other people may restrict their eating or binge as a way of numbing the feelings of anxiety.’
Some people suffering from anxiety may start to obsess about their appearance and spend a lot of time and money trying to look ‘perfect.’ At work, anxiety may mean someone becomes overly perfectionistic, taking a long time to complete a task.
People with anxiety disorders are often said to be people who are natural people pleasers and over-thinkers, who tend to be compassionate, intelligent and responsible. So what you’re looking for is an increase in these behaviours.
Another manifestation of anxiety is obsessive behaviour. ‘Obsessive behaviours such as excessive washing and checking might be a less obvious sign of anxiety in a loved-one,’ says Dr Silver.
When a person is anxious, they can be prone to ruminating over negative situations, which can contribute to difficulty concentrating. You might notice an anxious person is frequently late for work or unable to focus on tasks they would normally do with ease.
If a loved one starts avoiding activities they used to enjoy, or is spending more time alone, it could be a sign something’s not alright.
‘Anxiety sufferers may find they feel like running away or escaping, or spending lots of time and energy working out how to avoid anxious situations,’ says Boyd. ‘If you experience social anxiety you might also avoid situations that could trigger your anxiety, such as meeting up with friends, going out shopping or even answering the phone.’