Yahoo Voices~ Has a friend or a loved one ever called you a "worry wart?" Do you find that, once you start worrying, it's difficult to stop yourself? Have you been feeling this way for a long time? If so, it's possible that you suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD), an anxiety disorder that is estimated to afflict 6.8 million Americans (3.1%) each year.
My journey with GAD began when I was 16 years old. One evening, while working a lonely job in the stockroom of a retail store, I was suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of dread, that something wasn't "right." This feeling was accompanied by tearfulness that I could not control. I made it through my shift (just barely) and drove home in tears; I had no idea what was happening to me and couldn't explain to my parents what I was experiencing. I stayed home from school for a couple of days while the feeling gradually subsided and I was able to forget that it had happened (for a while).
A few years later, I went off to college, one of the most exciting and stressful events of a young person's life, and I loved meeting so many wonderful new people. When I returned home at winter break, suddenly separated from my new lifelong friends, I was overwhelmed by the same intense feelings of anxiety, dread, and tearfulness. Again, I didn't know what was happening and my family was at a loss of what to do about it. As I adjusted to being at home with my family again, the feelings gradually faded, and then returned when I went back to school.
A pattern began to emerge: any adjustment to my situation or any stressful personal problem seemed to bring on an attack of this intense dread, and it got to a point where I was experiencing it constantly for several months. At this point, my family and I finally decided that a visit to a psychiatrist was necessary, and that was when I finally got my diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
GAD is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association as a tendency to worry nearly every day, with an inability to stop worrying once started, for a period of at least six months. It can also be characterized by physical symptoms, such as agitation, an inability to sit still, and muscle tension. The exact subjective experience may vary from person to person; the one thing we all have in common is this feeling of intense worry, anxiety, or dread about nothing specific or about small, insignificant life issues that other people would be able to set aside.