When people are anxious, they can have physical symptoms and emotional symptoms, but they can also have what are called behavioral symptoms. Behavioral symptoms are what people do or don’t do in their state of anxiety, and are typically a response to the unpleasant feelings of anxiety.
Tarra, a 42-year-old server, suffers from anxiety and says that she believes and recognizes her avoidance behaviors are actually contributing to the disorder. Brian, 48, says he too has behavioral symptoms he hasn’t yet figured out how to control -- and because of this, continues to live with debilitating anxiety. Here are their stories.
I was diagnosed with anxiety six years ago, even though I think I’ve had it much longer than that. When I was 16, I left home, and figured out really quickly how to fend for myself. I watched a lot of things happen that no 16-year-old should ever watch. I’m very fortunate nothing physically damaging happened to me, but what being so young and being out on my own at that age did was cause me a lot of grief, a lot of worry. I kind of existed watching my back all the time, always thinking someone was out to get me, because everyone else was getting taken advantage of, and everyone was a mess. It’s followed me through the years that I should naturally be a mess too.
I don’t like being anywhere close to the city core. Or anywhere’s downtown, honestly. Even if it’s a brand new place I’m visiting – not that I travel a lot – I don’t like to go into urban centers. It scares me. It freaks me out. I feel like yeah, I’m probably missing out on a lot of life, a lot of art, a lot of culture, or like, just a lot of new things, because being in any kind of urban center pulls me back into my youth and I don’t like the feeling. It’s totally avoidant, I know, but I justify it by saying, ‘Hey, it keeps me sane.’ But honestly, I don’t know if it is. I don’t know if I’m keeping sane because I recognize that’s a trigger point, or if I’m actually delaying recovery because I just won’t face it. My husband and I have even talked about it. I don’t know what it is I’m not facing, because say we go to downtown Austin, which is light years away from my hometown in Michigan, and it’s not like downtown Austin has any bad memories for me. It’s my idea of it, my perception of all urban spaces, that makes me so anxious.
If ever, whenever I’m going anywhere new, I always need my husband with me. He’s my safety blanket. I feel like he keeps me safe from whatever it is I’m scared of. Is that bad? Probably, right? He can’t make the bad dreams go away, not really. I know that. But his presence calms me. He’s my safety net. He has his way of soothing me, of making me feel like I’ll be fine.
I’ve been warned it’s dangerous to depend on someone, or something so much, because I’m not trusting myself, by myself, to be okay. I’ve already experienced the truth in that. You know when you’re a little kid and your parents take you to your first softball game and you keep looking over your shoulder to see if they’re there? That’s me. That’s how I am with my husband. Whenever he’s not there, it’s like I fall apart. This in itself is a problem. I know this. But I don’t know how to do any of it without him there. And then of course, I freak out when I think of the day he’s not going to be there anymore. I keep telling him I hope I die before him, because I will honestly be so lost… I don’t think I’d be able to function anymore.
I was never a big drinker before. It’s kind of a recent thing. Well, maybe not so recent. I’ve been drinking for about seven years.
The men in my family don’t really talk about stuff, let alone admit to anxiety. My wife left me, and I can admit now, to you, that that broke me. I started drinking when our marriage started failing. I actually didn’t make out too badly financially – she didn’t take me for everything, like a lot of other guys say their ex-wives have done. She was pretty fair, honestly. She just took what she contributed to the marriage, let me keep the house, all of it. She didn’t fight. She just left. I feel like that’s part of what depressed me too – that she just stopped loving me. She didn’t even have the energy to fight.
I have this worry now that it’s me. I wasn’t enough then, and I really don’t think I’m enough now. My wife – my ex-wife – was beautiful, intelligent, kind. I mean, I won the lottery with her. I don’t think I’ll ever get to be that lucky again. There’s a lot worse to me than just the fact I drink. It hurts to look at myself that way, but honestly, how could I not. She was too good for me, and she was too nice to tell me I’m just not on her level. Instead, she left. I can’t imagine any woman would stay now… I’m kind of a mess.
Do I do much outside of the house? Not really. It’s not that I don’t see a point. I miss hanging out with my buddies, but that all kind of fell apart during the divorce too. Our friends were our friends, and you can’t fight for custody of friends. Our friends didn’t want to take sides, so they’ve just kind of stayed apart from both of us. I just keep to myself now. I really can’t see a reason why I’d add to my anxiety.
The behavioral symptoms of anxiety
The stories above detail what some people with anxiety live with on a daily basis – they may or may not experience the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety (i.e. insomnia, night sweats, breathlessness, clammy palms, worry, distress or dread) – but their anxiety is exposed in the ways they behave.
As highlighted in their stories, some of the behavioral symptoms of anxiety include:
- Engaging in risky behaviors that may also be unhealthy or self-destructive. These behaviors may include excessive drinking, drug use, sexual promiscuity, gambling or abuse of other substances or activities.
- Attachment to a person or an object that feels safe, or in an effort not to have to go to a place that feels uncomfortable (in children, this could appear as a young student refusing to go to school and feigning illness just to be able to stay home with Mom and Dad).
- Feeling as if one’s daily activities or interests must be minimized or eliminated completely to avoid feeling anxious.
- Feeling the need to avoid certain places that may trigger feelings of anxiety (such as Tarra being unable to go anywhere that even remotely reminds her of a downtown area in which she lived as a teenager)
- Escaping from spaces that could bring on anxious feelings (i.e. a student fleeing from an auditorium so as not to have to speak to an audience, even if he or she may be receiving a prestigious award)
While experiencing such behavioral symptoms of anxiety is perfectly normal, giving in to these symptoms may actually exacerbate the problem, or at the very least, prevent one from heading into recovery. If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety and is unable to cope with the behavioral symptoms, visit is at www.hopetherapyandwellness.com and speak to a licensed professional today.
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