All of us worry. But do you ever wonder if you worry more than normal? Do you ever think your worries could be affecting your health?
The women I see in clinic rarely include “worrying” on their list of concerns. They come in wanting help for physical issues – their headaches, the muscle aches in their shoulders, and their low back pain.
I ask a lot of questions as I assess my patients’ symptoms. If I hear they aren’t sleeping well or that they feel irritable and restless most of the time, I start to suspect that anxiety could be playing a role in their medical problems.
Anxiety is easy to miss because, to some degree, it’s part of our everyday normal emotions. And it’s okay to sometimes worry about your job. Or feel uncomfortable before speaking to a group. Or to feel upset when something bad happens.
But when making even simple decisions everyday feels difficult, that’s a problem. You don’t need to feel worried, anxious or nervous all the time. It’s not okay to feel upset or afraid to the point you avoid activities and aren’t living your life the way you want.
What I’ve described above is classic for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but the spectrum of anxiety disorders is wide – from panic disorder to phobias. There’s also overlap with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you are feeling anxious to the point it affects your life and your health, talk to you doctor. There is treatment for anxiety, just like there is for depression.
I recommend that you first visit your primary care doctor – they can assess your physical and mental health. And this is an important step because often there’s more than one problem going on. Maybe the trigger for the anxiety is a medical illness like thyroid disease, heart disease, or condition that has you in chronic pain. Maybe there’s a substance abuse problem – with alcohol or marijuana, for example – that needs to be addressed.
If you do have an anxiety disorder, there is good treatment available for you including medications and talk therapy. Speaking to a professional about your feelings, thoughts, and worries is important. They can help you think through your anxiety, make sense of it, and come up with strategies on how to reduce it. There are various therapists that can help you –psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors.
And there are important steps you can take at home. Relaxation techniques can help you calm yourself. Try deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Daily exercise is important to take your anxiety down a notch, so get out there and do what you enjoy. And try to avoid caffeine, which can make you feel worse.
The most important step is recognizing that anxiety isn’t something you have to live with. It’s a treatable problem, and you can learn the skills to help control it.