DEAR DOCTOR K: I worry a lot. Should I be worried that I worry too much?
DEAR READER: Anxiety (worry) can be a healthy response to uncertainty and danger. But constant worry and nervousness may be a sign of a condition called generalized anxiety disorder.
GAD is characterized by debilitating worry and agitation about nothing in particular or anything at all. In contrast, other types of anxiety disorders, such as specific phobias, arise from particular situations. For example, some people become suddenly very worried if they see a spider – any spider, not just a black widow or a tarantula.
People with GAD tend to worry about everyday matters. They can’t shake the feeling that something bad will happen and they will not be prepared. They may worry to excess about missing an appointment, losing a job or having an accident. Like you, some people worry about worrying too much.
Physical symptoms are common in people with GAD.
Does this sound like you? If so, see your doctor. He or she will probably ask you to describe exactly what you mean when you say that you feel anxious. Are you worried much of the time? Do you become frightened in particular situations? Do you have physical sensations, such as sweating or palpitations, along with emotional symptoms? The answers to these questions will help your doctor determine whether you have an anxiety disorder.
If you have GAD, therapy can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly helpful. CBT helps people recognize when they are misinterpreting events, exaggerating difficulties and making overly negative assumptions. This form of therapy can help you learn new ways to respond to anxiety-provoking situations.
Medications can also be an important part of treatment. There are several widely prescribed anxiety medicines, too many to name in a short column, but the most common types of anxiety medicines are called benzodiazepines.