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When you're worries are out of proportion to what you're worrying about, it may be time to seek help for generalized anxiety disorder. Here is how you can tell when your anxiety level is too high.

Is my job secure? Are we saving enough for retirement? Are the kids okay? Is my alarm set for tomorrow?

Who hasn't laid in bed at night and pondered these questions before finally going to sleep? It's certainly natural to worry a little, but what separates normal concern from a clinical diagnosis of anxiety is your body's reaction to anxiety.

When You're More Than Worried

Generalized anxiety disorder is defined as a period of excessive worry or anxiety that persists for at least six months.

The anxiety level is high enough to create feelings of restlessness, fatigue, and irritability. You have trouble sleeping at night, but you're easily tired during the day. Your muscles are constantly tense and you have difficulty concentrating.

Sounds like normal for a lot people at times, right? But, the difference is that it doesn't stop once you've gotten through the stressful period at work or school. It goes on and on and you have the same high-anxiety reaction to the regular aspects of everyday life.

Why Am I Overreacting?

For people with generalized anxiety disorder, thoughts that they could normally shrug off instead invoke a fight-or-flight reaction.  

Fight-or-flight is your body's response to an emergency situation.

It involves intense stimulation of your nervous system and increases your heart rate and breathing, pumps up your blood pressure and increases blood flow to your muscles.

This level of intensity is unsustainable over long periods of time. After all, it's a reaction that's meant to be in response to a discrete event, not your every day life. But with generalized anxiety disorder, small issues and worries provoke this overreaction throughout the day.

The Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety, of course, is the main symptom, but it is better defined as anxiety that is out of proportion to the thing you're worried about. It is not anxiety in general that defines the disorder, but the intensity, duration, and frequency of the anxiety. Idly wondering if you remembered to set the coffeepot timer before going to bed is not a big deal; having dry mouth and sweating at the thought is a problem.

Generalized anxiety disorder sufferers experience a wide range of symptoms.

Cold and clammy hands are common. Nausea and diarrhea are persistent. You may find you have to urinate frequently. You may feel like you have a lump in your throat that makes it hard for you to swallow. You probably feel pretty depressed.

It Gets Worse Over Time

Unsurprisingly, generalized anxiety disorder is commonly accompanied by depression. On top of the constant worrying, you begin to feel like things are hopeless. You feel worthless, sad, guilty, and irritable. All of the worrying about daily tasks is perversely alternated with not caring at all about them.  

Sometimes, people turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.

As you might imagine, this doesn't help. More often than not, it simply turns into a substance-abuse problem, compounding the existing disorder and adding to the troubles you are already facing.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. (2001). In Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (p.138, Edition 19). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company.
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