8 Common Problems That Can Be Signs of Anxiety

iStock
iStock

Anxiety disorders aren't always just nail-biting worry—they can manifest in some pretty unexpected ways. The issues and symptoms listed here are certainly not exclusive to anxiety, but if you find yourself nodding emphatically as you read along, it might be time to talk to your doctor.

1. EVERYTHING UPSETS YOUR STOMACH.

If gas, bloating, constipation, cramps, and/or diarrhea are a regular part of your life, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is extremely common in people with anxiety disorders. Stress and worry can exacerbate IBS symptoms, which, in turn, can make life a lot more stressful.

2. YOU CAN’T SLEEP.

The day is done and it’s time to hit the sack, but your body is just not cooperating. Your mind is racing, turning over a million little things or the same thing over and over, and your heart is pounding. As with IBS, anxiety can worsen insomnia, and the resulting sleep deprivation can make anxiety worse.

3. YOU PRE-GAME EVERY PARTY.

It’s one thing to have a glass of wine in the evening. It’s another to feel like you need a drink to face the stress of parties and other social situations. There’s a word for this—self-medicating—and it’s very common among people with social anxiety. Be careful with this one; while alcohol may help you relax for a few hours, it can definitely make things worse in the long run.

4. YOU NEED A MASSAGE.

Our bodies evolved a terrific defense system to keep us safe from predators. When a threat arises, our muscles tense, preparing us to run away. The problem is that these days we’re surrounded by minor stressors, and it’s no longer socially acceptable to literally stand up and run away. So we clench, and we clench, and we stay clenched. People with anxiety disorders are especially prone to muscle tension, spasm, and pain, as their defense systems are on perpetual high alert.

5. WORK IS REALLY HARD.

Even small tasks become challenges when you can’t stay focused. Difficulty concentrating is a hallmark of both anxiety and depression, and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: You can’t focus, so your work starts to slip, so you get stressed, which leads to more trouble focusing.

6. YOUR HEADACHE JUST WON’T QUIT.

Scientists are still teasing out the complex relationships between anxiety, depression, and pain. They know that people with anxiety disorders are more prone to both tension headaches (which can be caused by clenching) and migraines. Fortunately, if properly diagnosed, medication for anxiety and depression can help reduce pain.

7. YOU’RE WINDED ALL THE TIME.

Shortness of breath is a classic anxiety symptom, especially for people with panic disorders. But it doesn’t always take the form of hyperventilating or wheezing; many people with anxiety report experiencing dyspnea, or air hunger, in which they feel like they can’t fill their lungs, no matter how deeply they inhale.

8. YOU CAN’T LET THE LITTLE THINGS GO.

Are you still fretting over the joke you made to your coworker two days ago that landed flat, or that insensitive thing your boyfriend said last week? Ruminating—going over and over things in your head, the same way ruminants like cows re-chew their food—is a form of obsessing, and is very common in people with anxiety.

All images from iStock.

Tonight, the Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks on Earth Day

iStock/dmoralesf
iStock/dmoralesf

Tonight, look up and you might see shooting stars streaking across the sky. On the night of Monday, April 22—Earth Day—and the morning of Tuesday, April 23, the Lyrid meteor shower will peak over the Northern Hemisphere. Make some time for the celestial show and you'll probably see meteors zooming across the heavens every few minutes. Here is everything you need to know about this meteor shower.

What is the Lyrid meteor shower?

Every 415.5 years, the comet Thatcher circles the Sun in a highly eccentric orbit shaped almost like a cat's eye. At its farthest from the Sun, it's billions of miles from Pluto; at its nearest, it swings between the Earth and Mars. (The last time it was near the Earth was in 1861, and it won't be that close again until 2280.) That's quite a journey, and more pressingly, quite a variation in temperature. The closer it gets to the Sun, the more debris it sheds. That debris is what you're seeing when you see a meteor shower: dust-sized particles slamming into the Earth's atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. In a competition between the two, the Earth is going to win, and "shooting stars" are the result of energy released as the particles are vaporized.

The comet was spotted on April 4, 1861 by A.E. Thatcher, an amateur skywatcher in New York City, earning him kudos from the noted astronomer Sir John Herschel. Clues to the comet's discovery are in its astronomical designation, C/1861 G1. The "C" means it's a long-period comet with an orbit of more than 200 years; "G" stands for the first half of April, and the "1" indicates it was the first comet discovered in that timeframe.

Sightings of the Lyrid meteor shower—named after Lyra, the constellation it appears to originate from—are much older; the first record dates to 7th-century BCE China.

How to See the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Monday night marks a waning gibbous Moon (just after the full Moon), which will reflect a significant amount of light. You're going to need to get away from local light pollution and find truly dark skies, and to completely avoid smartphones, flashlights, car headlights, or dome lights. The goal is to let your eyes adjust totally to the darkness: Find your viewing area, lay out your blanket, lay down, look up, and wait. In an hour, you'll be able to see the night sky with great—and if you've never done this before, surprising—clarity. Don't touch the smartphone or you'll undo all your hard ocular work.

Where is the nearest dark sky to where you live? You can find out on the Dark Site Finder map. And because the shower peaks on a Monday night—when you can expect to see 20 meteors per hour—your local astronomy club is very likely going to have an event to celebrate the Lyrid meteor shower. Looking for a local club? Sky & Telescope has you covered.

Other Visible Bodies During the Lyrid meteor shower

You don't need a telescope to see a meteor shower, but if you bring one, aim it south to find Jupiter. It's the bright, unblinking spot in the sky. With a telescope, you should be able to make out its stripes. Those five stars surrounding it are the constellation Libra. You'll notice also four tiny points of light nearby. Those are the Galilean moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. When Galileo discovered those moons in 1610, he was able to prove the Copernican model of heliocentricity: that the Earth goes around the Sun.

What to Do if There's Bad Weather During the Lyrid Meteor Shower

First: Don't panic. The shower peaks on the early morning of April 23. But it doesn't end that day. You can try again on April 24 and 25, though the numbers of meteors will likely diminish. The Lyrid meteor shower will be back next year, and the year after, and so on. But if you are eager for another show, on May 5, the Eta Aquarids will be at their strongest. The night sky always delivers.

Does the Full Moon Really Make People Act Crazy?

iStock.com/voraorn
iStock.com/voraorn

Along with Mercury in retrograde, the full moon is a pretty popular scapegoat for bad luck and bizarre behavior. Encounter someone acting strangely? Blame it on the lunar phases! It's said that crime rates increase and emergency rooms are much busier during the full moon (though a 2004 study debunked this claim). Plus, there's that whole werewolf thing. Why would this be? The reasoning is that the Moon, which affects the ocean's tides, probably exerts a similar effect on us, because the human body is made mostly of water.

This belief that the Moon influences behavior is so widely held—reportedly, even 80 percent of nurses and 64 percent of doctors think it's true, according to a 1987 paper published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine [PDF]—that in 2012 a team of researchers at Université Laval's School of Psychology in Canada decided to find out if mental illness and the phases of the Moon are linked [PDF].

To test the theory, the researchers evaluated 771 patients who visited emergency rooms at two hospitals in Montreal between March 2005 and April 2008. The patients chosen complained of chest pains, which doctors could not determine a medical cause for the pains. Many of the patients suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts.

When the researchers compared the time of the visits to the phases of the Moon, they found that there was no link between the incidence of psychological problems and the four lunar phases, with one exception—in the last lunar quarter, anxiety disorders were 32 percent less frequent. "This may be coincidental or due to factors we did not take into account," Dr. Geneviève Belleville, who directed the team of researchers, said. "But one thing is certain: we observed no full-moon or new-moon effect on psychological problems."

So rest easy (or maybe not): If people seem to act crazy during the full Moon, their behavior is likely pretty similar during the rest of the lunar cycle as well.

This story was updated in 2019.

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