You’re worried about X, Y, and Z. You obsess about them for hours every day, maybe for weeks.
How do you know whether this is typical worrying, a normal way of processing something that’s important to you, or if you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
Karen Swartz, M.D., the Director of Clinical Programs at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, says the main difference between worry and GAD is that the symptoms are more frequent with GAD. In a Depression and Anxiety Health Alert, she mentions one study that found that people without GAD tended to worry an average of 55 minutes a day, while those with GAD worried for 310 minutes each day. That’s one hour compared to five.
She identified a few other differences, as well:
Normal Worry: Worrying does not interfere with your job or social life.
GAD: Worrying significantly interferes with your work or social activities.
Normal Worry: You feel that your concerns are controllable and can be dealt with at a later time.
GAD: You feel that your worrying is out of your control.
Normal Worry: Your worries cause only mild distress.
GAD: Your worries are very distressing and pervasive.
Normal Worry: A specific cause initiated your worrying.
GAD: Worrying began for no reason.
Normal Worry: Your worries are limited to a specific topic or a small number of topics.
GAD: You worry about a broad range of topics, like job performance, money, personal safety or the safety of others, etc.
Normal Worry: Significant worrying lasts only for a brief period.
GAD: You have experienced excessive worrying for six months or more.
Normal Worry: Your worrying is not usually accompanied by physical or other psychological symptoms.
GAD: Three or more physical or psychological symptoms occur with your worrying (such as sleep problems, irritability, tense muscles, problems concentrating, fatigue or restlessness).