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How Can You Tell If You Have Anxiety?

Learn how to know if anxiety is serious--and when it’s just a hard part of life.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
September 21, 2010
Episode #064

Page 2 of 2

What Is Generalized-Anxiety Disorder?

Big anxiety--anxiety that casts a long shadow in your life--usually needs professional help.

Sometimes anxiety is a non-specific feeling of worry or dread, such as with generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety can be very specific to situations, such as with phobias including fear of bugs, snakes, public speaking, heights, or water. I am not talking about people who don’t like bugs or snakes, I am talking about people who won’t leave their house or can’t sleep because of these fears. Sometimes the anxiety revolves around relationships, as is the case with social anxiety disorder, and sometimes the symptoms come in episodic flares, like with panic disorder. Finally, some people escape their anxiety using alcohol, drugs, or other addictions. That list is by no means exhaustive; the bottom line with these behaviors is that they are a reaction to the person’s vulnerability or helplessness.

What Causes Anxiety?

Like most illnesses, anxiety disorders are a mix of heredity and environment. Having a family member with clinical anxiety doesn’t guarantee you will have it, but it will make you more prone to trauma that can trigger clinical anxiety. But please hear me on an important point: anxiety has a reason. It’s not moral weakness or a lack of faith that makes people struggle. Unfortunately, people around those with clinical anxiety don’t know that, and often chide them to “just don’t worry so much.” That adds the emotion of shame to the struggle with anxiety, and it is unnecessary. People with anxiety disorders don’t wake up and decide that they will be anxious. They would love to stop, but can’t.

How to Cope with Anxiety

So what can be done about anxiety? Here are my Quick and Dirty Tips for dealing with anxiety.

Tip #1: Don’t feel ashamed. I wouldn’t blame you for bleeding if I threw a brick at you, and most people dealing with anxiety have had emotional bricks thrown their way.

Tip #2: Look for root causes. Usually there is something from the past that hasn’t been dealt with that you are either trying to escape from or resolve. Understanding why you feel the way you do helps a lot in trying to overcome it.

Tip #3: Talk to someone. If the anxiety is not too big, talking to a friend, family member, or religious leader might help. But big anxiety--anxiety that casts a long shadow in your life--usually needs professional help. Find a counselor who has been trained to treat anxiety. You shouldn’t be ashamed for seeking help; it’s a much worse thing to run from your problems.

Tip#4: Take medications if needed. There are two main kinds of medications for anxiety: ones that last a short time, and ones that you take every day. The shorter-acting medications are usually medications like Valium or Xanax, which can be addictive if used too often. If you need one of these medications more that a few times a week, you should probably consider getting on a preventive daily medication, like Paxil or Zoloft.   These medications don’t fix the root problems causing your anxiety, but they do steady your emotions enough that you can face those bigger anxieties that lurk in the shadows.

I’ll stop here for now. There is a whole lot more I could say, but I just wanted to give an overview. Next week I’ll cover anxiety’s cousin: depression.

If you have topics that you want me to cover, send them to housecalldoctor@quickanddirtytips.com, or you can submit them to me on twitter (@housecalldoc) or my Facebook page.

Let me once again remind you that this podcast is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.

Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!

Anxious Man image courtesy of Shutterstock

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