What… Me Worry? Part II

The financial crisis is gaining momentum in the United States and now the entire world is feeling it. If I hear one more story on the news about how this is just the beginning, I might blow a gasket. What does that even mean?

Well, I am not a financial advisor or an economist, so I will not try to get the answer of what this means from a financial perspective. What I will try to do is understand what this may mean to the collective psyche of the United States.

Before any of this talk about the financial crisis, anxiety problems already gripped a disturbingly high percentage of the American population. I have seen estimates that anxiety disorders affect 10­15% of the population at any given time. My guess is that number has grown since the summer.

So where is the line drawn between “normal” levels of anxiety and pathological anxiety? In “What…Me Worry Part I”, I focused more on what would be considered normal anxiety, and how, at some level, that can help us.    When there is too much anxiety, however, that can cause severe problems. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is defined as a minimum six month period of excessive worry, more days than not, about any number of day­to­day issues. The person suffering from this will find it very difficult to control the worry. Normal symptoms that occur with it include restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or the mind “going blank”, irritability, muscle tension (headaches, neck pain and stomach issues are common with that), and sleep disturbance.

In other words, the difference between “normal” anxiety and pathologic anxiety would be anxiety that causes problems in a person’s day to day functioning.

People who suffer from GAD generally have some family history of it. They usually have periods of feeling better but any kind of stress can trigger an episode of GAD. Stress can come from anything from our country’s financial woes to work problems to family illness or other family problems to your favorite football team having a bad year. Stressors are relative and what may stress one person a lot may not stress another so much. What matters are what issues stress you and how those makes you feel.

GAD can be tough to treat. One of the main reasons is that most people feel that their anxiety is unreasonable; they feel that they should just be able to “get over it” and that they are ridiculous or “crazy” for “letting” this happen. That thought process leads to a vicious circle of thinking that leads to a feedback loop that usually looks like this: “I am anxious, I should just get over it…But I cannot so I must be crazy…I am an idiot and I will never get better…I am now more anxious and need to just get over it…” and so on.

I remind people that, with this thought process, they will have a very hard time getting better. I teach them that GAD should be thought of as a medical illness just like Diabetes. In Diabetes, if you eat chocolate cake all the time and are not regular with treatment, you will not stay stable. In GAD, if you do not work on ways to manage stress and, in some cases take medication, you will also have a very hard time getting stable again.

Just like in Diabetes, there is most likely a chemical imbalance in GAD. This can be restored with proper treatment. When severe enough that should include a discussion of medications but should also include work on lifestyle, as outlined in my page on how to treat anxiety without medications.

A good start on getting control of GAD is to take an inventory of yourself. Look at how much anxiety and worry you have through the day (and night) and try to discern whether or not it is getting in your way, especially in the areas noted above. Once you have done that, if there is a problem, talk to people you love and trust about it and look for ways to help yourself. It will help you get back to feeling better again.

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