Harvard Men’s Health Watch – When worry becomes a problem

Everyone feels afraid or worried at times, but if these feelings begin to take over your life, then you may have crossed over into generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is the most common anxiety disorder among older adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

“The issue with many older men is they often just endure the discomfort of GAD, or think it’s normal, and do not talk about the problem,” says Dr. David Mischoulon, director of the Depression Clinical and Research Program at -Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “However, left alone to manifest, GAD may lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, depression, and addictive behavior like excessive drinking.”

GAD symptoms

GAD is defined as feeling anxious, fearful, or worried about multiple unrelated events or activities every day for at least six months. People with GAD constantly anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about issues like health, money, and family, even when there is no apparent reason for concern.

GAD tends to run in families and may be something you have always dealt with, but it also can be triggered by sudden changes, says Dr. Mischoulon. For instance, the death of a spouse or friend may make you feel vulnerable about being alone.

A minor health issue might cause anxiety about serious problems later. GAD also can keep you from engaging in a healthy lifestyle — you may refrain from any exercise for fear of injury, or avoid social outings.

One of the main issues with GAD is that men have trouble acknowledging it as a problem. Many believe it’s natural to worry more about life issues as they age, and often they can function well enough with a moderate level of anxiety. They even may rationalize their constant worrying by believing it prevents bad things from happening. This may explain why only about 43% of GAD sufferers get treatment, says the ADAA.

The first step to dealing with GAD is to acknowledge you have it. “Many men understand what’s causing their fear and worry, but often don’t want to face it,” says Dr. Mischoulon.

Other times, the source is not clear. If you suspect your worrying is excessive, consult with your doctor. He or she can determine if it may be related to another health issue, and if not, refer you to a psychologist or therapist for further evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.

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