We’re all familiar with the telltale signs of stress “ the knot in the stomach, the racing heart, the sleepless nights, the fidgeting and sweating. It’s a totally normal thing to experience when faced with a tough situation, like a conflict at work or a dubious blind date. But if you’re getting that freaked-out feeling on a regular basis, it might be a sign of a more serious underlying anxiety disorder.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 12% of the population is affected by any of the cluster of anxiety disorders defined by the DSM-IV. It’s an especially relevant topic for women, as they’re almost twice as likely to be diagnosed and hospitalized with the condition as men. Those stats sound pretty major, but shockingly, they’re just a low estimate “ many cases in our country go undetected. Some fear the stigma of being diagnosed with a mental disorder, while others lack a full understanding of their condition and assume it’s normal to get irked regularly.
Certain forms of anxiety, like specific phobias or severe panic attacks, are pretty easy to spot, but Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a little tougher, defined as an unfocused an uncontrollable state of worry about everyday life. If it goes unchecked, GAD can become a problem that hinders your responsibilities, relationships, and sense of wellbeing. How can you tell if you have a disorder, or are just a plain ol’ worrywart? If you think you fit the anxiety bill, here’s a short list of defining characteristics to look out for:
You’re essentially perma-stressed:
We all worry about things from time to time, but with GAD, it’s not just the regular things getting you worked up “ it’s everything. Sufferers fret indiscriminately, from the smallest everyday tasks to the biggest life concerns.
It’s getting you nowhere:
All that anxiety is making you feel tired, irritable, and restless “ but it’s not really helping you to solve any problems. A little bit of stress in life is a great motivator that pushes us to finish tasks and resolve issues, but if it’s only making you feel like crap, it may be time to do something about it.
You’re panicking regularly:
A trademark panic attack is a sudden (within ten minutes) and intense sensation of fear or discomfort, usually marked by symptoms like sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and a fear of dying or going crazy. Attacks aren’t an indicator of GAD, but are usually a symptom of other related anxiety disorders.
It’s been going on forever:
The medical diagnosis for GAD usually requires that the patient be experiencing symptoms like these for at least six months. A lot of sufferers have even been battling anxiety since childhood, and just assume their emotions are normal since it’s all they’ve ever known.
If you think you fit the profile, don’t worry (seriously)! Many cases can be treated quite quickly and effectively. In addition to meds, most psychologists recommend a treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), where they’ll teach you how to recognize those catastrophic thoughts when they flare up and confront them realistically.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is a bit of a lifestyle change; getting more exercise, eating less junk, regimenting your sleep schedule, and practicing relaxation methods like yoga and meditation are all helpful ways to quit vexing. If you’re still unsure of how bad your anxiety is, the safest bet is to talk to your doctor, who can give useful advice and refer you to the right therapist if necessary. Seeking help is a powerful move; just remember that mental health issues don’t make you a freak “ they make you human.