Everyone experiences anxiety at some point during their lifetime. It’s natural to be concerned about a big test or interview or to feel anxious about your finances after losing a job. However, some people suffer from excessive worries that begin to affect their everyday functioning. When this happens, it can be extremely difficult to complete daily tasks, and constant worry may become physically exhausting. So how do you know when to get help?
It may be useful to first distinguish between normal worrying and what clinicians call Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Normal worries are usually situation-based and may come and go as circumstances change (i.e., you finish a job interview and your anxiety passes, or you find a new job and your worries stop). GAD, on the other hand, is characterized by excessive, intrusive, and persistent anxious thoughts that are beyond what the situation warrants. These thoughts are often debilitating and usually pervade many aspects of a person’s life.
People suffering from GAD are often described as “worrywarts”. Individuals suffering from GAD often get into a worry cycle and feel that they are unable to stop the worries. The thoughts can wax and wane over time, and the individual may feel that they are not in control of these thoughts when they do occur. About 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the US population suffers from GAD, with women being two times more likely than men to be affected.
To know when to get help, consider how your anxiety may be affecting these three domains in your life:
1. Relational: A sign of potential GAD is whether your worries are affecting your relationships with others. Are you allowing your anxiety to isolate you socially? Are the worries so bothersome that they negatively affect your work life or family life? Are you avoiding situations that might lead to feeling more anxious or worried? If your anxiety is causing problems with those around you or disrupting your usual social activities, it may be time to get help.
2. Physiological: Consider any physiological consequences you may be experiencing with your worries. People who suffer from GAD usually report many distressing physical symptoms, including muscle tension, fatigue, restlessness, irritability, edginess, and gastrointestinal problems. You may be losing sleep (or not getting restful sleep) because you are unable to control your worries. Additionally, if you find yourself using alcohol or drugs to cope with your anxiety, this may be a red flag that you are suffering from GAD.
3. Emotional: Individuals suffering from GAD may not be aware that they have excessive worries until they begin feeling depressed about these persistent thoughts. Feeling like your mind is consumed with worries can lead to depression if you feel that you cannot “get a grip” on your thoughts. Avoidance of once pleasurable activities can lead to feeling demoralized or helpless and may be a clue that you may additional help in combating GAD.
If your anxiety affects one, two, or all of these domains in your life, you may want to consider getting professional help. There is good news, though — there are treatment methods that have been found to be helpful for GAD. These treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy, certain types of psychopharmacological interventions, and mindfulness-based therapies. Some people are able to overcome anxiety through book-based self-help methods. Even if you elect to use a self-help method it may be helpful to speak to a mental health professional before getting started.