What is Covert Anxiety and How Can You Avoid it? - Men's Health Magazine Australia

What is Covert Anxiety and How Can You Avoid it?

Why you might be anxious, but not even know it.

Anxiety, hang-xiety, fan-xiety (yup, Urban Dictionary tells me that’s a thing). Regardless of when or how anxiety hits, it’s one of our most common mental struggles. One thing that’s not so common though is being able to identify the more covert signs it might be there. Enter Men’s Health ‘Mind Matters’ round 3, because this week we’re throwing some light on signs of anxiety most of us don’t even know are there. 

Covert Anxiety, what is it? 

Sure, for the most part we get the drill. Ask someone what it means to be anxious (trust me, it’s how I spend my day) and you’ll likely hear a familiar set of feels. We sweat, we shake, we stammer. The overt signs of anxiety are often in your face and easy to identify. But covert signs are the ones we often miss. They’re the more subtle, lesser-known signs that you might be carrying the mental gremlin around unbeknownst to you. And right now in a world where there’s a whole lot to feel anxious about, knowledge is key here. Knowing what it is, when it’s there and the fact we can take action, can help bring those same symptoms tumbling down. 

The Reality Check 

A common but lesser known symptom of anxiety can include a shift in reality and time. Sounds a little red pill/blue pill yes, but if this one rings home then you’re not alone. Feeling somehow disconnected, not there or ‘out of it’ are actually features of subtle dissociation that anxiety and panic often bring. Time slowing down or speeding up are part of this crew too, and at higher anxiety levels a sense that yourself or the world aren’t real might occur. 

Brain Belly 

At its core, anxiety is all about the brain telling the bod that it’s time to fight or flee. This means our gut can cop a whack in the process. Changes to blood flow and nerve connections mean anxiety can also cause a queasy gut, the runs or pain in the abdomen or pelvis. For some people, the tummy is where their anxiety lives and it might be the only sign it’s there. 

An Empty Tank 

“I feel tired as hell for no reason”. This is one I hear a lot. Times of higher stress and anxiety eat up a lot of mental and physical fuel. This means that feeling fatigued, burnt out, low in libido and tired are common but often missed signs an anxiety disorder might be there. Even if things like sleep, workouts and weekly plans remain the same, for many a tank on ‘E’ might be their biggest sign. 

The Overkill 

Getting bogged down in the details, hung up on perfection and going overboard on the explanations (yep, those waffling emails) are a sign that anxiety (especially social) might just be ruling the roost. An anxious brain craves control, so feeling a compulsive need to over explain, outline, prepare and perfect can be signs it’s there.

Brain Fog 

It’s no sweaty palms or racing heart but brain fog is anxiety 101 too. When anxiety arises, we often find ourselves forgetting things, having trouble concentrating or feeling like things just won’t connect. It’s always something that surprises guys into a bit of an “a ha” type moment when I raise it and it’s a symptom we often don’t associate with anxious times. 

A Short Fuse

The stereotypical image is of Anxious Andy awash with nerves and stress. But it’s important to know he might by Angry AF Andy, too. It’s not uncommon for irritability and feeling angry to be signs of anxiety. An anxious brain is one with a lot of competing demands and so our ability to juggle, keep our cool and calm emotions, all at the same time, thus takes a hit.

The Action Point?

Anxiety is all too often about awareness. If we know our body’s signals, we can identify them when they arise and do something about them. The obvious ones are simple. The not-so-typical symptoms (like the ones above) are actually pretty common, so practicing picking up on them can go a long way to helping you break the cycle. Call them out, acknowledge they’re there and work on using that moment as a trigger for slowing the breath and calming things down. And as always, if in doubt, shout out. 

By Kieran Kennedy

As a medical doctor and psychiatry resident, with degrees in psychology, physiology and medicine / surgery, Dr. Kieran Kennedy sees, first hand, the absolute importance in advocating for mental health. He is also writer & speaker, natural bodybuilder and fitness model.

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