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What to Do When Worry Boils Over

By Sandy Schroeder

All of us worry a little -- and sometimes we worry a lot -- when accidents happen or day-to-day pressures multiply. But usually, we can work through our current situation and settle back into a relatively calm state.

But some cases of worry are not so easily dismissed.

In those cases, worry may simply flood the mind as it surges out of control. One worry often ignites another. This is known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), where worry seems to take on a life of its own. As an individual becomes more agitated, upset, and vulnerable, he or she may generate a steady stream of things to worry about.  When worry approaches this level, a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment is needed, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A Worry Mode

People who have GAD seem to sink into a worry mode in which they automatically expect bad things to happen. This can gain momentum as they worry about their job, their family, and their ability to keep everything together. Big and little worries flourish in their minds.

Over the years, I have known a couple of people who behaved as if they had GAD. They seldom smiled, and always seemed to be active and nervous. Their lists often generated more lists, and you could hear anxiety in their voices. Much of their behavior seemed to be involuntary, as if they were in a worry spin cycle that never shut down. They seemed to have lost the ability to relax and think calmly.

One of these people was an accomplished businessman with a long career. But a chain of difficult circumstances pushed him into a career change, and he wound up in the hospital with a racing heart. He was successfully treated and later appeared calmer.

Physical Symptoms

This level of worry can increase heart attack risk as the individual may grapple with headaches, upset stomach, dry mouth, nausea, hot flashes, rashes, trembling, racing heart, labored breathing, and sweating. 

If you feel you may have generalized anxiety disorder, look for these characteristics and see your primary care doctor to discuss available treatments. In most cases, GAD can be helped with talk therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.  

Identifying Patterns

  • Ongoing worry and tension for six months.
  • Fuzzy unfocused thinking
  • Mental agitation and stress
  • Crankiness
  • Nervousness

Almost seven million adults in the U.S. are affected by GAD.  Researchers say the risk is twice as likely for women, and highest between childhood and middle age. It begins gradually, and may be initiated by stress, family background and life experiences.

If you suspect you have GAD, you may find it hard just to get through the day, without lapsing into overwhelming anxiety. Find out what is available now. Contact your doctor to arrange for counseling to cut through the worry cycle and begin to regain calmness.

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