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I worry a lot. Do I have an anxiety disorder?

Gray Crawford
I worry a lot. Do I have an anxiety disorder?

“I am a professional worrier,” Gray Crawford, Business Manager at Petersgate Counselling Centre admits. “I sometimes joke to others that the amount I worry every day really worries me.”

“I would sometimes lie wide awake in the middle of the night, my brain, which should be resting,  somehow finding the energy to start pulling apart, piece by piece, every single thing that I did the day before and catastrophizing what might happen tomorrow.’

“I often think that it would be great if I could just reboot my brain, deleting all these negative messages, just like I would do with my computer when it gets jammed. Then again that could be fatal for humans.”

We are all different. Everyone has their own unique battles, sometimes arguing with themselves, sometimes feeling like we are failing in life, the imaginary devil on our right shoulder becoming stronger than the competing imaginary angel on our left shoulder because we give it far too much more attention than it deserves.

I am not crazy. I am just human. Everyone feels anxious and worries sometimes. It just goes hand in hand with our stressful lives.

Who I can thank for all this worrying is a small part of my brain called the amygdala which has evolved since caveman days to keep us safe. When cavemen were roaming the plains trying to avoid being eaten by lurking sabre tooth tigers the amygdala saved them by telling them that sabre tooth tigers don't like their tummies rubbed. In our modern age however there are not the same number of animals out there wanting to eat us (well at least not in New Zealand), so our amygdala creates  the same panic, sending cortisol and adrenaline throughout our bodies, as a result of more mundane, non-life threatening things like our meeting people for the first time.

The problem is knowing when being mildly anxious becomes serious anxiety and you need to seek professional help

Here’s how to tell the difference.

Worry tends to reside only in our minds while anxiety affects both body and mind.

Everyday worries take place in our thoughts, while anxiety can also manifest itself physically in our body. For example anxiety may make you feel faint or lightheaded. Some people may even hyperventilate. 

Worry is specific while anxiety is more generalized.

Whether you're fixating on your odds of catching Covid-19 or concerned about your job being secure, worry is distinct and concrete. Anxiety can be generally vague. You may feel unsettled, but you can't pinpoint what you're really anxious about. And that can make problem solving difficult.  

Worry is temporary while anxiety is longstanding.

Worry is usually short term. There's a concerning situation (like Covid-19) and you worry about it. Worry prods you to use problem-solving skills to address your concerns. Anxiety is, in contrast, persistent with no solution presenting itself. 

Worry doesn't impair function while anxiety does.

You probably won't be forced to take a sick day due to worries about finances or weight gain. Anxiety, however, seeps into your psyche and can make it difficult to concentrate and get things done.  

If you are struggling with anxiety, there are a few things you can do at home: 

Turn off the news: Watching the news increases feelings of stress. You can learn the basics and discover what's going on in the world with only two minutes of screen time. Anything more than that and you're just watching the same anxiety-provoking news on a loop. 

Practice mindfulness: Taking 5 or 10 minutes a day to tune into yourself and your surroundings. This can have powerful anxiety quelling effects.  

Challenge negative thoughts: If you frequently think, “I can't do this” or, “I'm stuck,” try challenging these thoughts with two other thoughts: Is this really true and is my thinking helpful? In most cases, negative thoughts are fueled by an anxious brain. Stopping them with a challenge test can help reset your mind. 

Get comfortable: Since one of the hallmarks of anxiety is avoidance, exposing yourself to what you're anxious about (in small doses) can help you build up a tolerance. The idea is to desensitize yourself to discomfort, to sit in the emotion until you acclimate.

Do fun things: It's important to do things each day that you enjoy. This might be going fishing on the weekend, maybe a walk in the park or playing sport. Most importantly, whatever you do, make sure you make time for laughter. 

Seek professional help from a counsellor: Conversation and education helps. For one thing it validates that you are not alone. It also puts your condition into perspective and sets parameters that you can understand and the fight against.