Anxiety is an intense experience. Many of the symptoms of anxiety are physical: muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and more. These symptoms can actually cause anxiety on their own and tend to cause a significant amount of disruption in people's lives.
But mental anxiety symptoms are perhaps the hallmark of what makes an anxiety disorder. Many people suffer from thoughts and emotions that fuel their anxiety symptoms and cause struggles in their ability to enjoy a certain quality life.
What Are the Mental Symptoms of Anxiety?
Arguably all symptoms of anxiety are mental symptoms - even physical symptoms - because they're caused by the way your brain is interpreting information.
It should also be noted that anxiety changes the way your brain chemicals operate, and that causes you to actually have different thoughts and affects your decision-making processes. Anxiety is always affecting you - the way you process information, how you look at logic and decision making, and more.
Different anxiety disorders may be associated with different mental symptoms. But the mental anxiety symptoms that people most associate with anxiety conditions include:
- Worries Worries are of course one of the mental issues most associated with anxiety. Anxiety actually creates worries. That's what we're talking about when we say that anxiety changes the way you think. People with anxiety often worry about things that you shouldn't worry about (i.e. they’re irrational); and often, these worries can be debilitating and distressing.
- Unwanted Thoughts/Images A similar problem that is most associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder are unwanted thoughts. These may represent a fear of germs or something more severe like images of yourself doing violent things to someone else. Anxiety is linked to such thoughts, and you may find yourself continuing to obsess over them in a way that causes more anxiety.
- Negative Emotions Anxiety is also linked to negative emotions more generally. Remember, anxiety affects neurotransmitters (or brain chemicals), and your neurotransmitters are what help regulate your mood. Therefore, it makes sense that anxiety may affect your brain chemistry in a way that alters your mood for the worse.
- Hypersensitivity Anxiety can also create what's known as hypersensitivity. This is when your mind becomes incredibly sensitive to changes in your body, and notices every single one. Unfortunately, when your mind pays this much attention to how you feel, it ends up amplifying them and often causing more anxiety.
That's another big issue with anxiety mental symptoms. Many of them end up leading to more anxiety, which in turn causes the symptoms to become worse.
How to Heal the Mental Symptoms of Anxiety
The good news is that the mental symptoms of anxiety can be controlled. Some strategies for managing your thoughts and reducing your anxiety include:
Learn to Be Okay With Your Thoughts
The first thing you need to do is be okay with these thoughts. You need to be able to accept that you have them, and in some cases, you may even want to think about your fears on purpose.
The reason this is important is because of a phenomenon known as "thought suppression." Studies have shown that when you try to suppress a thought, you actually think about it more. It's not clear why this occurs, but it's been shown to happen in numerous studies.
That's why those with obsessions, for example, are often told by psychologists to think about their fears and obsessions on purpose until they stop causing anxiety. When faced with something that causes anxiety long enough, your mind tends to adapt so that it causes less anxiety - but only if you allow it to enter your life.
Think of it like a phobia. If you were afraid of spiders, and you were forced to spend hours upon hours in the room with a spider, your mind would adapt so as to fear the spider less. It's natural. But if the spider was outside of your home and you did everything you can to avoid it, then any time you see a spider you'd still feel fear.
That's why you need to allow yourself to think these thoughts and fears. You know they're linked to anxiety - they're not something you're controlling - and you need to be okay with your condition. It will make a big difference.
Writing Them Out
Another helpful strategy is to write out the thoughts that you cannot seem to get out of your head. Anytime you have a thought that you can't get rid of - even if it's not frightening or negative - write it down on a piece of paper. This is especially helpful if you have thoughts that are bothering you right before you sleep since these thoughts are often the hardest to get rid of.
It's helpful to have a journal and pencil near you at all times. You don't need to write out everything you're feeling (although that can be helpful). Simply write out some of the thoughts that seem to keep coming up.
One of the reasons this is helpful is because there is some evidence that the brain doesn't worry about thinking about/remembering things as much if it knows it's in a permanent place. In other words, writing down your thought can be used to your advantage with regards to your anxious thoughts.
Exercising may not sound like something that affects the way you think, but it does. In fact, numerous studies have shown that exercising affects your thought processes and ultimately your anxiety.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are the brain's natural painkillers that happen to also have a relaxing effect. Exercise also distracts the brain (in a good way) so that it's harder to focus on negative thoughts.
There is also a great deal of evidence suggesting that exercise drastically reduces anxiety as well, which of course will decrease the frequency of mental symptoms. Exercising is definitely something worth considering.
Simple Healthy Distractions
Of course, another simple way to prevent the mental symptoms of anxiety is to distract your mind. Your mind can only handle so many thoughts and symptoms and issues at any given time, so if you can distract your mind from these issues you can find some relief.
Obviously doing that can be difficult, especially because the entire point is that it's hard for your mind to enjoy positive emotions and stop its worrisome thoughts. But there are some strategies that can work:
- Talking On the Phone Talking on the phone can be very hard to do if you're also distracted by anxiety, so if there's someone you can trust that you can talk to openly, you'll often find that your focus is much less on your anxiety and more on your phone call.
- Good Technology Technology can actually fuel anxiety, but there are ways to use it correctly. Watch only funny and light-hearted TV shows - don’t watch anything too late at night, as this can disturb your sleep which may worsen your anxiety. Listening to upbeat or calming music can help too, but remember to listen to music that represents the way you want to feel (happy) rather than how you feel (sad or scared).
- Puzzles and Games Playing puzzles and various games can also be a big help. In fact, puzzles and things that use your mind often require so much concentration that it's hard to focus on your mental symptoms.
If you have someone around you, talk to them about what you're feeling. Try not to be too shy about it. Remember, it's similar to thought suppression - when you try to fight your anxiety and hide it, it tends to become more amplified. So if you have a friend around you when you're experiencing negative thoughts, try to be open about it so that you're not stuck in your own head and letting your anxiety get worse.
Treat Your Anxiety
Obviously, however, the best way to ensure that you no longer experience the mental symptoms of anxiety is to treat your underlying anxiety. Anxiety is a treatable condition, and there are effective ways for people to control their anxiety.