Dr. Orma was recently interviewed by Women’s Health Magazine for insights into the topic, Do you have an anxiety disorder–or are you just a worrywart? How to tell the difference between the two.
You worry about a lot of things—for example, you may be on-edge about that project due next week at the office or you may fear your partner will leave you for whatever reason. But does all that worry mean you have an anxiety disorder? It could, depending on the severity of your experience and how much it affects your day-to-day life.
Anxiety is actually the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting more than 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And the two most common types of anxiety disorders are social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. That being said, in order to be diagnosed with either of them, you have to meet certain criteria. Here’s what you need to know.
If your anxiety legit bothers you and it keeps you from doing things you want to do in life, you’ve checked off the two main qualifiers of an anxiety disorder, says Steve Orma, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in San Francisco who specializes in anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM), people with social anxiety disorder have persistent fear of one or more situations where they’d be exposed to people they don’t know or to possible scrutiny by others. (So for instance, a friend’s birthday bash where a lot of strangers will be in attendance.) This fear often leads to panic attacks and avoidance of these types of situations. People with generalized anxiety disorder, meanwhile, have excessive worry about everyday things, even when nothing is wrong. The fifth edition of the DSM notes that you must experience these signs for six months or more in order for it to be labeled an anxiety disorder.
All that anxiety—and the stress it causes—can be exhausting, says Orma. That’s why other common symptoms include sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, nightmares, excessive sweating, shaking, nausea, and fear of losing control. Over the long term, it can even increase your risk of inflammation, weight gain, and chronic conditions like heart disease, says Chantal Gagnon, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and Florida-based mental health counselor.
Like we said, exhausting, which is why many people with anxiety disorders tend to have avoidance down pat, says Gagnon. “We often convince ourselves that we don’t like something or don’t feel like going somewhere when the truth is that we are anxious about it,” she says. “People often refer to what is in fact anxiety by talking about comfort. ‘Oh, I’m not comfortable with that. I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ This can really mean, ‘Just the thought of this is giving me anxiety, and rather than trying to understand or resolve my anxiety, I just prefer to avoid the whole thing,’” she says. Sound like you?
For those who suspect they may indeed have an anxiety disorder, there are plenty of therapists who specialize in treatment, says Orma. One of the most common techniques used is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which you work with a therapist to identify and change any harmful beliefs or thought patterns. Some M.D.s may also prescribe anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications.
If you do seek treatment, remember that the fit between you and your therapist is the most important part of the equation, says Gagnon. “It’s more predictive of therapy success than the actual type of treatment used,” she says. Give it at least four to six months, do the suggested “homework” and reading assignments in between sessions, and in that time, you can make huge changes in your anxiety levels.
(Article by K. ALEISHA FETTERS)