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 or panic attacks that begin to affect their everyday functioning. When this happens, it can be hard to complete daily tasks. Constant worry may become physically exhausting. So how do you know when to get help for anxiety?
When is worrying a problem?
It may be useful to first distinguish between normal worrying and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Normal worries are usually situation-based. They come and go as circumstances change. For example, you survive a job interview and your anxiety passes; or you finally find a new job and your worries stop). GAD, on the other hand, is characterized by excessive 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. The person 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. Women are 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:
A sign of potential GAD is whether your worries are affecting your relationships with others. Are you allowing your anxiety to isolate you socially? Have the worries become 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.
Consider any physiological consequences you may be experiencing with your worries. People with GAD usually report many distressing physical symptoms. These can include 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, notice whether you find yourself using alcohol or drugs to cope with your anxiety. This may be a red flag that you are suffering from GAD.
People suffering from GAD may not be aware that they have excessive worries. Sometimes what clues them in is when they begin feeling depressed about the 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. If you find yourself avoiding once-pleasurable activities, take note. This can lead to feeling demoralized or helpless, and might be a clue that you need additional help.
If anxiety affects one, two, or all of these domains in your life, you may want to consider consulting with a mental healthcare provider. 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 might help to speak to a mental health professional before you start.