5 Meaningful Signs Of Anxiety That Most People Miss

Your anxiety is trying to grab your attention.

Symptoms of anxiety that you may be missing Stock-Asso | Shutterstock

Signs of anxiety can be obvious, and not so obvious. Anxiety can ‘yell’ at you, flash you into panic, and fuel that familiar pit in your stomach that tells you something’s wrong. Most of us know and understand this kind of acute anxiety. But this isn’t the only kind of anxiety and certainly isn’t the only kind of anxiety that’s useful. Some signs of anxiety are more like a whisper that nags you, drags you down, and frankly irritates you. This is your discomfort is doing its job: to get your attention and prompt you to find a solution.


Here are 5 meaningful signs of anxiety that most people miss:

1. You worry early in the morning

Quiet anxiety seldom occupies center stage in our daytime awareness and instead, often presents in the quieter moments that end and begin our day. Worrying about how to afford your next vacation, for example, may not be something that grabs your attention when you are surfing the web and getting ideas, but just might be on your mind when you wake up. Financial awareness is an important element of planning a vacation that is fun and affordable. The worry signals a problem that still needs solving.


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2. Your dream about it

If you are lucky enough to remember your dreams, you will have yet another avenue for accessing your quieter worries. Dreaming of being late to school and missing an exam? You might need stronger strategies for juggling your many responsibilities. Dreaming of losing your temper with your mom? You might need better ways to speak up in your relationships. Once you identify the anxiety your dreams are signaling, you can use it to build better solutions.

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3. You get nagging thoughts

Sometimes you just can’t stop thinking about that thing that’s bothering you. Are you doing your best at work? Are your children getting enough of your attention, did you hurt your friend’s feelings inadvertently? These are the kinds of nagging thoughts that signal background worries that are legitimate, and worthy of our attention, even if none are urgent. We tend to worry about the things that are too long on the ‘back burner’ as we attend to ‘front burner’ demands, and this worry can direct us to re-balance our efforts when needed.

4. You're seeing it everywhere

Sometimes our biggest worries are right under our noses, but we are too close — or scared — to label them directly. Instead, we seem to see the issue everywhere we look, and can’t help but complain about it. Feeling surrounded by people who don’t take enough responsibility, for example, might not be a benign annoyance. Key people in your life may not be doing enough of their share either and this deeper anxiety is triggered every time you interact with a similar situation. Feeling surrounded by an issue is the clue you are quietly worrying about it closer to home, and the impetus to take action.


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5. Increased irritability

Another way our anxiety tries to speak to us is through irritation and elevated emotions. Anxiety can be an emotional escalator, adding an extra punch to anything you feel. Irritability can be a signal of low-grade anxiety that needs your attention and focus. Asking yourself what you are most afraid of can help assess your worries and frame where you need to focus your problem-solving attention. When your anxiety won’t shut up, either yelling or nagging you, it signals a problem you need to face and invites you to dig in even if you don’t want to.

Be it that early morning put in your stomach, a bizarre nightmare, or a surge of irritability, your anxiety is there to help you. Facing it is the first step in doing something about it, and changing your situation for the better. Your anxiety is speaking to you all the time, sending you constant messages about the things you care about most. When we don’t listen to our body’s signals, our anxiety kicks in by sending different signals. This is anxiety doing its best job. The sooner we key into the message anxiety is trying to tell us, the sooner we can use it to our best advantage.


If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

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Dr. Alicia Clark has been a practicing psychologist for over 25 years and has been named one of Washington’s Top Doctors by Washingtonian Magazine. She is the author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You In Life, Love, and All That You Do.