By: Karen Salisbury, CSW
Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience from time to time, but when it affects our daily lives it may be something more serious. It could be an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders come in many forms including Social Anxiety-discomfort and fear in social settings, and Specific Phobias-unreasonable fear of a specific object or situation. However, one we commonly hear about, but may not fully understand is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD affects women twice as often as men and is defined as excessive and irrational worry about everyday matters, including health issues, money, death, relationships, etc.
Though we all worry about these things from time to time, a person with GAD might worry about things to the point of obsession and exhaustion. Take for example, a young woman in high school who is constantly worried about getting to class on time, getting sick in class and being embarrassed, maintaining grades, wondering whether or not teachers or friends like her, or fretting over how she look to others. GAD might affect a middle-aged man who cannot quit worrying about finances or job security, speculating if his wife is truly happy, pondering the future of his children, or even obsessing over his parents and their health. He might pass up job promotions or other opportunities because he is worried he will fail.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.” Because anxiety affects nearly 1/5 of the population, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with symptoms in order to help ourselves or those around us with empathy and compassion. Symptoms may include: excessive, ongoing worry and tension; an unrealistic view of problems; trouble being alone; restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”; irritability; muscle tension; headaches; sweating; difficulty concentrating; nausea; the need to go to the bathroom frequently, tiredness, trouble falling or staying asleep, trembling, or being easily startled.
Whether we come from a long line of “worriers” or can pinpoint traumatic experiences in our lives in which the worrying began, there is hope. We can learn to look at our worries in new ways. We can implement calming techniques such as, deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. We can discover healthy ways to connect with others. We can use our senses to self-soothe. And we can use diet and exercise to increase our ability to cope. Indeed, we can reduce our anxiety and find joy in living again.