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Johns Hopkins Health - Find Your Balance

Fall 2014
Issue No. 26

Find Your Balance

Date: October 9, 2014

Do you have anxiety or an anxiety disorder? Here are some clues


Working on a tight deadline. Caring for a terminally ill loved one. Everyone can feel anxious now and then. But if the anxiety starts getting in the way, it might be a condition called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

How can you tell the difference? Although there is no sharp dividing line between normal anxiety and GAD, it may come down to just how much time you spend being anxious, says Joseph Bienvenu, M.D., Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins.

“If you’re worrying about things that are weeks or months into the future, that could be a sign of GAD,” he explains. “Worrying about a number of things can also be a symptom, but some people with GAD focus on a single area of concern.”

GAD is often accompanied by physical symptoms, too, including restlessness, edginess, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability and muscle tension. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, so feeling deeply sad for more than a couple of weeks could be a warning sign and should be addressed regardless.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and hoarding disorder are other forms of anxiety. OCD behaviors, like frequent hand-washing or excessively checking that you turned off the stove, are often driven by the need to relieve anxiety. Spending more than an hour a day on such activities is a sign of a disorder. In people who have hoarding disorders, the idea of throwing things away is disquieting.

Nevertheless, “there’s a big difference between making sure you didn’t leave the iron on and having OCD,” Bienvenu says. “As with any anxiety-related disorder, if the behavior is disrupting your life, then it’s time to see an expert for treatment.”

Recognizing and Treating Anxiety Disorders
Would you know if you had generalized anxiety disorder? Probably not. Most often, it’s spotted by a loved one who might say something like, “You’re always stressed out” or “Your muscles are so tense!”

Even hoarding behaviors might seem perfectly OK to people who save every newspaper in case they need to look up something, but their relatives might have a very different view.

Getting the right diagnosis is crucial, because treatment is individualized across conditions, and even across patients with the same disorder. In addition to cognitive therapy, which helps patients reshape their thinking to address their anxieties or behaviors, medications including antidepressants and antianxiety drugs can be beneficial.

For more information, appointments or consultations, call 877-546-1872.