By Cheryl Byrne
Famed writer Norman Mailer once quipped, “The natural role of the twentieth-century man is anxiety.” That may feel even more true in the 21st century.
We live amid a culture of busy-ness . We work too much. We sleep too little. We always seem to be running around in a rush. We are overwrought with family, work, and other obligations. And we worry. We worry a lot.
But how do we know when normal everyday worrying may be something that requires more than just a rearranging of our schedule or a quiet night at home —when those worries may actually require medical intervention?
According to the Kim Foundation, more than 40 million adults in America suffer from an anxiety disorder. That is, their worries and fears transcend the normal —and begin to interfere with everyday life. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a generalized anxiety disorder as “the presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, and activities” that lasts for at least six months.
Let’s face it: we all have worries. And most of us experience some anxiety during the course of our lives, whether it’s feeling nervous about speaking in front of a large group or staying up a few nights worrying about an exam or a big work project. But anxiety disorders take those normal worries and amplify them to the point where they get in the way of day-to-day functioning.
So how do you know if you might have more than your normal, everyday worrying? That you may need to seek medical help for an anxiety disorder?
1. Are your worries causing you excessive suffering—and interfering with daily life? Are they stopping you from going to work? Or doing the things you need to do to lead a happy, healthy life?
2. Are you having difficulty with sleep? Are you staying up nights because of your worries?
3. Are your worries irrational? For example, is a fear of spiders crippling you and keeping you from leaving the house?
4. Are you constantly clenching your jaw? Balling your fists? Chewing your nails —or keeping yourself in a near constant state of muscle tension?
5. Are you having gastrointestinal difficulties? Anxiety is often accompanied by tummy troubles.
6. Do you find yourself working yourself into a state of panic—or even experiencing panic attacks?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, and your symptoms have been occurring for more than six months, it’s probably time to seek out the counsel of a qualified medical health professional.
The good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable—and the Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA) says that tailored, individual treatments can make a huge difference in the way you feel and behave. The vast majority of people with anxiety can be helped; the first step is getting a correct diagnosis.