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Monday, October 17, 2011

Worry Much?

Do you worry too much?

How is "too much" defined?

Some degree of worry is normal and even useful. If we never worried about anything, we might never have the motivation to get anything accomplished.

But there is definitely such a thing as too much worry, and too much worry can significantly impair functioning. Excessive worrying is associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a psychological disorder that is classified as an anxiety disorder in the DSM-IV, along with panic attacks, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

GAD is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry over everyday stimuli and involves 4 main characteristics: (1)intolerance of uncertainty, (2)poor problem solving, (3)cognitive avoidance, and,(4)positive beliefs about worry.

Individuals with GAD tend to believe that: worrying helps to solve problems, it increases motivation, it minimizes distress from future negative outcomes, it demonstrates a positive personality trait, and that worrying can directly alter actual events.

GAD is thought to be caused - like most psychological conditions - by a complex interaction between biology and experience.

GAD is associated with a variety of somatic complaints, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, ruminations, and major depression. Because with GAD, apprehension and distress are chronic and diffuse and not strongly associated with external stimuli, GAD can be very difficult to treat.

The most effective treatments for GAD are cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and/or anti-depressant medications such as venlaxafine (Effexor).

I am definitely a worrier and I think I probably have been since I was a child. My mom is too, but whether my worrying is due to our shared biology or the social environment in which I grew up is impossible to know. Probably both.

I have been told in the past that I have "generalized anxiety disorder" traits, but it wasn't until I did CBT following Little A's birth, that I was diagnosed with GAD. At first I was shocked and horrified that I was being diagnosed with a clinically-significant disorder...particularly as I was studying to become a counsellor. But eventually, not only did this diagnosis - and the treatment I received - change my life, but I believe it prepared me far better to be a counsellor.

When I first saw the psychologist, I had not slept well in months, in fact I had slept barely at all. Every night I would fall into bed exhausted and fall asleep instantly. But if Little A woke me at 11pm, 1am, 2am, it didn't matter the time, or if I woke up to pee, or if I woke up for no reason at all (which I did often), that was it. I was up for the rest of the night.

My mind was on constant over-drive. I could not listen to music. AT ALL. Because whatever song I heard would get stuck in my brain and replay over and over. If I was concerned or upset about ANYTHING, even the most insignificant thing, I would be up ALL night trying to problem solve.

I was MISERABLE.

Through our discussions, many of my core assumptions (beliefs about my self and about the world) became clear and I realized I had all the typical symptoms and beliefs of someone with GAD. It was very humbling and enlightening to realize that even though I am a pretty self-reflective person, there was a lot about myself that I was not consciously aware of.

By the end of our several months of CBT, the psychologist declared me "cured" and honestly, I have never felt better. I almost never get insomnia, I don't catastrophize (as often), I can listen to any music I want (the whole family is happy about that!), and I no longer ruminate or blow small issues out of proportion. I have more confidence in my own coping abilities and am able to identify and challenge dysfunctional thoughts when they emerge.

If you feel like worry is affecting your life, don't hesitate to seek help. It can make all the difference to your physical and mental health!!

For more info, follow this link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001915/