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Understanding Anxiety, Agitation and Restlessness

Anxiety changes emotions. If you've been dealing with anxiety for a long time, you've probably noticed that your anxiety has left you a different person. You may be a bit more agitated - a bit more restless - and you may find yourself quicker to experiencing annoyance or negative emotions. These are all a part of anxiety.

Is Anxiety Making You Annoyed and Restless?

It's hard to believe that agitation can be caused by anxiety, since it feels so natural. But feeling agitated and feeling restless are all a part of living with anxiety symptoms. Find your anxiety severity and learn more about your specific anxiety with our free 7 minute anxiety test.

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Negative Emotions Are a Part of Anxiety

People think of anxiety as one emotion: anxiety itself. Few people realize that anxiety is a complete disorder, and one that causes a whole host of emotions and symptoms that often seem completely unrelated. If you haven't yet, take my free 7 minute anxiety test to get a better understanding of your symptoms.

There are many different reasons that anxiety has a tendency to lead to agitation, and other negative feelings. Some include:

  • Nervous Energy At its core, agitation and restlessness are due to nervous energy. Anxiety provides a constant flow of adrenaline in your system. This adrenaline puts your entire body on edge, because it's preparing you for "fight or flight" - an evolutionary system designed to keep you safe in times of danger. Of course, no danger is present, so that energy goes unused, and this leads to a feeling of being very agitated, as though something needs to happen that isn't happening.
  • Negative Tendencies Not all agitation is physical. Anxiety has a tendency to cause the mind to notice and focus on the things that are negative - not only as a behavioral response to anxiety, but also because it alters brain chemistry in a way that may make it harder to see positive things. During periods of high anxiety - especially during or right before an anxiety attack - anything that may bother you becomes amplified, and you start to feel as though the world is an irritant.
  • Anxiety Fatigue Finally, many people become more restless and on edge simply because they're tired of the anxiety. Dealing with anxiety every day can often be very troubling, and eventually it's not uncommon to feel annoyed at yourself and your anxiety every time you feel anxious. This, too, can cause agitation, and in some cases negative emotions may even cause you to last out at those around you.

Agitation can be defined in many different ways, and so too does anxiety seem to create agitation in many different ways as well. It's not as simple as saying that your fight/flight system causes agitation or that you're agitated because you're irritated with your anxiety symptoms. There are so many things going on every time you're dealing with anxiety that all of them come together and create that restless feeling.

How to Control the Agitation of Anxiety

That agitation can cause its own distress, which is why controlling it is so important. If you don't control your agitation, you'll find that it causes more anxiety which causes more agitation. Many people find that agitation tends to precipitate a panic attack, often because the feeling of being on edge puts your body on high alert, which in turn causes you to focus more on your anxiety.

The first key to controlling agitation is simply to learn not to fight it. It's a symptom of your anxiety, and in many ways it's important to simply accept that you're going to be agitated, and remind yourself that anxiety is causing it. This is extremely important, because fighting agitation and fighting restlessness will cause you even more stress. These things aren't going to simply go away just because you don't want them, and you also need to not blame yourself for the way that you feel. Anxiety is simply not in your control.

Another strategy to reduce agitation is to work off that energy. Remember, adrenaline is pumping through your body because your body thinks you're encountering some type of fear. The feeling of restlessness is often caused by all that adrenaline sitting there, going unused. So use it. Get moving. If you can run, go run, and if all you can do is walk around for a while then walk around for a while. Find a way to relieve some of that energy.

Other strategies to try include:

  • Mantra Meditation Mantra meditation is a useful tool for reducing stressful thoughts and controlling breathing. Placing yourself in that type of relaxed environment can have a powerful effect on anxiety.
  • Yelling Sometimes, all you need is a good yell. If no one is around you and you're in a place where no one will hear you, try yelling as loud as you can. Loud yelling releases some of that pent up energy.
  • Laughing Finally, if you can find anything to make you laugh, that can be a big help. Laughter can be very difficult when you're suffering with agitation, but if there is anything in your life that consistently makes you laugh, focus on it. Laughter, like yelling, reduces some of that nervous energy and puts your mind on something much more positive.

Anxiety causes a great deal of buildup, which is why there are not many effective ways to simply relieve agitation on its own. You need to address the anxiety that causes that agitation in the first place. Only then can you truly control the agitation experience.

I've helped thousands of people with their agitation issues overcome them. But I have to start them all off with my free anxiety test. You need to know exactly what your symptoms are if you want to treat them, and my anxiety test is the best place to start.

Click here to start the test.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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