When to worry about worrying

A recent article in HEALTHbeat, a publication of the Harvard Medical School, caught my eye. The title: When to worry about worrying. The article suggests there is no shortage of things to worry about-from personal concerns about your family, your job, your health, to fears related to larger issues such as political conflicts, terrorism and natural disasters. Temporary anxiety can be a healthy response to uncertainty and danger, but constant worry about things real or imagined may be a sign of a more serious problem-generalized anxiety disorder.

A generalized anxiety disorder involves chronic worrying, tension and nervousness. It is diffuse or free floating, not connected to anything in particular. People with a generalized anxiety disorder can’t shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen and they will not be prepared. Some people even worry about worrying too much. Does this sound familiar?

“I can’t get my mind to stop-it’s driving me crazy!”

“He’s late-he was supposed to be here 20 minutes ago! He must have had an accident!”

“I can’t sleep-I just feel such dread…and I don’t know why!”

Worries, doubts and fears are a normal part of life. The difference between “normal” worrying and a generalized anxiety disorder is that the worrying becomes:





Emotional symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

  • Constant worries running through your head
  • Feeling like your anxiety s uncontrollable; there is nothing you can do to stop worrying
  • Intrusive thoughts about things that make you anxious; you try to stop thinking about them, but you can’t
  • An inability to tolerate uncertainty; you must know what’s going to happen next
  • A persuasive feeling of apprehension or dread

Behavioral symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

  • Inability to relax, enjoy quiet time, or be by yourself
  • Difficulty concentrating on things, like reading a book
  • Putting things off because you feel overwhelmed
  • Avoiding situations that make you feel anxious, like driving or being in a crowd

Physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

  • Feeling tense; having muscle tightness or body aches
  • Having trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep because your mind won’t quit
  • Feeling edgy, restless or jumpy
  • Stomach problems, nausea, constipation or diarrhea

You will need a doctor’s help to know if you are dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder.

Self diagnosis is never a good idea!

Specific therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize when they are misinterpreting events, exaggerating difficulties, or making pessimistic assumptions, and offer new ways to respond to anxiety-provoking situations.  For some people, medications maybe an important part of treatment. There are also many things you can do for yourself (self-care) to foster anxiety reduction. It is not one choice or another, but a combination of several options designed specifically for you to help you get a handle on your anxiety. In my next post, we’ll concentrate on the specific treatments for help manage a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Stay tuned, I’ll continue this discussion next week!




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