Anxiety attacks from moving... again

Dear Alice,

The last week or so I've been having anxiety attacks or at least that's what I think they are. I've been tossing and turning at night. We have just moved, which isn't unusual. My husband's job moves us around a lot. I've never had this problem before and I'm starting to get worried. Should I see a doctor?

— Worried

Dear Worried,

It's can be common to experience some degree of anxiety when you move, change jobs, graduate, get married, or experience other big life events, even if they're positive ones. If change-related angst continues well after you've settled into your new situation, or if it seems like your worries are larger than the situation may call for, then you might consider a visit to your health care provider or mental health professional. When it comes to anxiety, some people also experience panic disorder, in which they experience panic attacks (which some people colloquially refer to as anxiety attacks). Read on to learn more!

In general, almost everyone experiences some level of anxiety from time to time. At the lower end of the spectrum, feeling anxious is often a typical response to some kind of stress or external trigger. Furthermore, while it may be uncomfortable in the moment, feeling some level of anxiety can be expected in certain situations and even healthy. For example, feeling anxious before a test can be potentially motivating, causing someone to focus and double down on their studying efforts. However, if your body's response to stress begins to impact your daily life and well-being, then you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are characterized as producing excessive feelings of fear, uncertainty, or doubt in response to a particular stressor, as well as:

  • Physical symptoms such as stomach aches, trouble sleeping, and headaches
  • Irritability or social withdrawal, sometimes accompanied by increases in drinking or substance use
  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating

Your poor sleep may be a normal stress-related symptom or it may be something more, especially if any of the symptoms of anxiety sound familiar. In terms of anxiety or panic attacks, they usually occur quite rapidly and are characterized by having feelings of extreme fear or terror, as well as sometimes being accompanied by fears or thoughts of dying. In addition, there are also physical symptoms associated with panic attacks, such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, shaking, and sweating. Furthermore, what can make anxiety or panic attacks so jarring is that there is usually no definable cause, as they seem to come out of nowhere. However, it's possible for certain triggers to be present, such as a particular memory, sound, thought, or smell.

If you feel that your concerns or worries are impeding your regular routine, then speaking with a mental health professional about them may be a good idea. Sometimes, therapy or a combination of therapy and medication may help alleviate the symptoms. Additionally, physical activity may help reduce stress and anxiety. However, while getting physically active regularly may help dial down the stress for some, for others this option may not do enough or may not be feasible. It could be that what you're experiencing is normal stress that will subside as you settle in to your new home. But, if your sleep continues to be disrupted and you feel uneasy, a visit to a health care provider may prove beneficial. If you're looking for additional mental health resources, Mental Health AmericaAnxiety and Depression Association of America, and The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) may also be able to provide some additional insight. 

Hoping you're soon having lots of sweet dreams,

Last updated Apr 01, 2022
Originally published Dec 05, 1997