The Garden-Variety Worrier

“ I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

T.S. Eliot

The most spot on and visceral description I have ever come across regarding generalized-anxiety Disorder (GAD), which includes overanxious disorder in childhood, is by the 19th century psychologist William James. He described his own struggle with anxiety as “a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach… a sense of the insecurity of life.”

Most likely we all know a garden-variety worrier, or, we may be one ourselves, ie someone who frets about a variety of things, such as thinking the worst when a loved one is late or is convinced that when hearing sirens they are heading towards her home.

There’s also the secret stash of numerous worries, which are never shared out of fear of being ridiculed.

In children it often manifests in excessive worry regarding school performance. Fretting about such things is not of itself an indicator of GAD.

What constitutes the disorder is the inability to divert your attention from the knot in your gut to the point that it impairs social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

How does this disorder come about? Well, it took years of arguing the nature versus nurture argument for research to conclude that a large part of this behavior is attributed to brain activity and partly to environmental factors that have triggered emotional skittishness.

However, the link between neurology and behavior is complicated. From a neurological perspective it appears that the brain’s anticipation of threats is invaluable for survival, but the overly anxious can’t seem to be able to turn down the voltage even if there is no danger at hand.

Therefore, psychotherapy is useful to help people understand their biological predisposition to anxiety, to learn how to quiet the scary thoughts in their mind, to be taught relaxation techniques, and to pinpoint what environmental factors conscious or unconscious may have contributed to their anxiety.

The mainstay of medications that are prescribed for dealing with the neural roots of anxiety are SSRI and SNRI antidepressants. For severe cases, anti-seizure drugs may be used. Finally, a healthy life style that includes exercise, enough rest, and good nutrition can help reduce the impact of anxiety.