Everyone faces daily worries about family, health, finances, or jobs. This kind of worrying can actually be a good thing. We worry because we are trying to think ahead, to plan for the future, and to protect ourselves and the ones we love. A little fear when driving in traffic keeps us attentive. Worry over a sick child drives us to take her to the doctor’s office.
But at what point does normal, healthy worrying become an anxiety disorder? Anxiety disorders differ from daily worrying in a simple way: clinical anxiety causes emotional and psychological distress that interferes with your ability to function “normally” in life.
Do your worries keep you awake at night? Do they interfere with your ability to do your job? Are they negatively impacting your relationships? If yes, then maybe your worries have crossed the line and become anxiety.
You certainly wouldn’t be alone. The various forms that anxiety can take represent the #1 most common mental struggle in America. Listen to these statistics:
- 7-18% of American adults are experiencing a clinical anxiety disorder this very minute, with the highest rates among middle-aged females.
- 3.5% of all adults in the US have experienced “serious psychological distress” in the past 30 days, again, the highest rates being found among middle-aged females.
- Nearly 9% of men struggle with anxiety and/or depression on a daily basis, but fewer than half of them seek any professional help.
So, what do the data tell us? Clearly, American men and women alike are struggling with anxiety. Sometimes we know that we are struggling, and sometimes we get help. Often, though, we either don’t recognize it for what it is, or we avoid seeking help for personal reasons such as shame and embarrassment.
What does an anxiety disorder look like? What are the symptoms? Symptoms vary from person to person and from one situation to the next, but some common physical symptoms of anxiety include
- sweaty palms
- increased heart rate and breathing rate (sometimes can feel like you can’t catch your breath, or that someone is sitting on your chest)
- extreme muscle fatigue
- shaky legs and hands, tremors, or twitches
- upset stomach (including nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, acid reflux)
Sometimes you may not have any physical symptoms, but only emotional symptoms, such as
- feelings of dread
- feeling overwhelmed, like you just can’t do it (whatever “it” is)
- tension and jumpiness (startle easily)
- irritability, especially with people closest to you
- anticipating the worst
The bottom line is that many of us struggle, and help is out there. You’re not alone on this journey. Take a step of faith and courage, and call your doctor, a pastor, or a therapist. Do it for yourself. Do it for the people you love. Whatever your motivation, just do it.