Everyone worries. It’s a part of being human; it’s the result of having dreams, aspirations and relationships that carry great meaning and significance to us. When this worry starts getting in the way of those dreams, aspirations and relationships, it stops being healthy, and is nothing any of us should have to bear alone, or in silence.

40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder; the most common disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is estimated to be found in 3-4% of the United States population. Obviously, a lot more than 3-4% of the population have fears and worries, so what is it that separates everyday stress from GAD?

Worrying stops being healthy when it starts taking over someone’s life. The key aspect of GAD is a pervasive, unfocused worry that is constant and disruptive to daily activities. This worry usually has two very important facets that separate it from everyday concerns: it is often focused on unlikely worst-case scenarios and is persistent throughout the course of the day. Someone with GAD might hear about a traffic accident and become preoccupied with the idea of getting into one, or with the idea that a loved one was involved in that traffic accident. These worries can become obsessions that are intrusive and prevent the individual from being able to concentrate. Throughout the course of the day, the feelings of worry and unease will flit about from topic to topic, invading every part of the person’s life. The problem is only compounded when that person becomes frustrated with the constant anxiety, but feels like he or she can do nothing about it. Over time, a sufferer of GAD will become easily startled and unable to relax.

GAD can affect your physical health, too. As a result of almost constant stress, heart palpitations and dizziness commonly crop up in those with GAD, and can get more severe over time. Many others suffer from trembling, twitching, muscle tension, headaches, shortness of breath and nausea. The human mind is incredibly powerful. An anxiety disorder like GAD, if left unchecked, can deal significant damage to your livelihood and well-being. If these symptoms, along with the constant and pervasive worrying mentioned above, persist consistently for months at a time, it’s time to take action.

The best thing to do if you are concerned that you are suffering from GAD is to consult a doctor, who can refer you to a mental health practitioner. Treatments usually range from therapy, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Behavioral Therapy, to medication, like SSRIs or Benzodiazepines, which act as antidepressants by targeting chemical imbalances in the brain. Don’t accept medication without question, though; medication is not right or necessary for everyone, and can sometimes cause more harm than good when an individual builds up a tolerance to or a psychological dependency on a drug.

Unfortunately, a trip to the doctor or a psychologist isn’t always feasible or possible today, and can cause stress and worry in and of itself, when the costs are taken into consideration. Even if you feel like a trip to the doctor is out of reach, there are actions you can take to empower yourself and prevent GAD from controlling your life. Many practices of traditional Eastern religions, like meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises, can help you relax and put invasive worries in perspective. Even if you don’t have GAD, setting aside twenty or thirty minutes to meditate can help alleviate daily stress and help keep you more focused.

If you feel like you might have GAD, the most important thing you can do is talk to someone. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as you don’t try to go it alone. Countless people struggle with GAD or other anxiety disorders across the globe. Talk to a loved one, a doctor, or check online to see if there are any support groups in your community. There’s no reason to feel alone.

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