A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

More than worry: How to recognize anxiety

Woman on the couch looking distant - Normal worry versus anxiety

There are some simple ways to recognize the differences between normal worry and an anxiety disorder.

We all worry from time to time.  But how do we know when we’ve crossed a line from normal worry to something more chronic?

“Worry is generally an unpleasant feeling of apprehension,” said Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger, a postdoctoral fellow in Behavioral Health at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “For some people worrying becomes more persistent, intense and difficult to control. We generally would refer to someone who is experiencing these more intense symptoms as having a generalized anxiety disorder.”

For example, Offenwanger said when people receive a bill, we generally write a check, mail it in and forget about it. Someone with an anxiety disorder may write the check and mail it in, but not be able to stop worrying after the check was mailed.

“They might worry over and over again about whether or not the check will be received or if they paid the right amount,” Offenwanger said. “So despite the fact that they mailed the check and resolved the situation, they can’t let go of the worry.”

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States, impacting about 40 million adults.

Symptoms of anxiety

A number of physical and mental symptoms often correspond with an anxiety disorder including:

  • Muscle tension
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation or irritability

How to cope

For many, anxiety is particularly high at work. Offenwanger said having good relationships with your colleagues goes a long way in reducing anxiety. She also encourages people to ask for help if they feel overwhelmed at work.

Communicating with others and being genuine about how you feel can help reduce that anxiety,” Offenwanger said. “If there’s a deadline you don’t think you can meet, talk with your colleagues and managers. Many times we are too afraid to speak up, but it’s exactly what we need to do to reduce that anxiety.”

Offenwanger also suggested carving out a 30-minute period in the day when you allow yourself to worry.

“That practice of putting it off often helps reinforce for people that they do have control and they can get through a period of anxiety,” Offenwanger said.

Practicing mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or meditation also helps reduce feelings of anxiety.

If you have questions or concerns about anxiety issues, contact your doctor.

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