Anxiety is a natural and healthy feeling all humans experience, says Ravi Shah, M.D., a psychiatrist at ColumbiaDoctors and assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s absolutely healthy to have some anxiety. It helps us perform better,” he says. “If you’re worried you have a test tomorrow, that’s good; it makes you study.”
He says anxiety becomes problematic either when the worry is disproportionate to the issue at hand (such as an otherwise healthy young person who thinks chest pain is a heart attack) or when it interferes with daily life. “If worry is driving you forward, I’m a little bit worried about a test. I studied, that’s OK,” Shah says. “If worry is holding you back and you get paralyzed by fear—you’re avoiding things or you’re spending time worried about the assignment but not actually able to do the assignment—that’s when it’s a problem.”
He says the following are signs you might be struggling with anxiety:
- Worrying most of the day.
- Muscle tension due to worry.
- Feeling on edge most of the time.
- Physical symptoms due to anxiety, such as a racing heart, inability to catch your breath, shaking or sweating.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome that worsens with anxiety.
- Avoiding things you otherwise would do because of anxiety or fear.
- Inability to relax even when there is nothing stressful going on.
- Inability to sleep due to ruminating.
- Feeling that worry is in an anxious “loop” that repeats itself.
- Trouble concentrating due to worry.
- Inability to let a concern go or push it aside.
The good news? Whether it’s a low dose of medication or talk therapy, anxiety is easy to treat. “Of all the problems in mental health to have, anxiety is in a way a good one because it’s very treatable. The evidence is good, and it really works,” Shah says.
Related: Is Therapy Right for You?
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.