Worry is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated”. Some of us tend to worry. We become periodically concerned about challenges such as work assignments, family concerns, relationship issues, our health or the health of others, financial matters or situations that just seem to be unfair. But when does worry become excessive? When should we seek professional help to cope with the level of stress in our life?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, also referred to as the DSM-5, helps mental health professionals assess whether we just periodically become concerned about a matter or whether we are actually suffering from the effects of a disorder such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
When assessing for GAD, clinical professionals look for the following symptoms as outlined in the DSM-5:
- the presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive.
- the worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry may easily shift from one topic to another.
- the anxiety and worry are accompanied with at least three (3) of the following physical or cognitive symptoms:
- Edginess or restlessness;
- Tiring easily - more fatigued than usual;
- Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank;
- Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others);
- Increased muscle aches or soreness
- Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)
If you recognise that you may be worrying excessively, it is important to seek professional help. Excessive worrying has the potential to damage our mental and physical health. It can also cause problems at work and in our relationships.
Apart from seeking professional counselling, there are other steps that you can take to reduce the level of anxiety in your life. Nutrition, exercise and sleep are key elements in a range of available anxiety reducing methods. Research indicates that we benefit from reducing our intake of caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Exercise – at least thirty minutes three times per week - has been proven to have a positive impact on our mental and physical health. The duration and quality of our sleep is also vital. We need to develop the habit of unwinding from our hectic days by turning off our televisions, putting away our cell phones and engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep and slow breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and listening to calming music.
We will all benefit from living less stressful lives. Let us check ourselves and take the steps necessary to enjoy the mental and physical health that we deserve.