All adults under age 65 should be screened for anxiety, according to the influential US Preventive Services Task Force, which issued new draft guidelines last month. (Adobe Stock)
Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
TORONTO — If you’re constantly catastrophizing, worrying about ‘what ifs’, afraid of the unknown and feel the need to be in control, one psychologist says these are signs that you may be dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder.
“Generalized anxiety disorder is kind of a misnomer, and I blame the title,” Anna Maria Tosco, clinical psychologist and founder of Sassy Psychologist, said on CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “It’s actually quite specific, and it involves excessive worry about a lot of things in your life to the point where it’s not allowing you to sleep, it consumes you, you’re not functioning well.”
Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders and can prevent someone from fully engaging with their life, a fact sheet by the Canadian Psychological Association explains. It can manifest in fear of meeting people, panic attacks and depression.
Tosco says that when the symptoms are uncontrollable, psychologists consider it a “diagnosis.”
“Oftentimes people say it comes from at some point in your past … there was trauma, or a bad breakup, or an illness where you were left to think that the world wasn’t safe,” Tosco said.
There are steps for people to combat the disorder. Tosco says the first is to “stop playing the horror movie version of the future.”
“Don’t get me wrong, it exists,” Tosco said of the worst-case scenario. “But to go there, and to give all of your airtime there is unfair, there’s a plethora of other possibilities. So we get them to consider the other possibilities that exist, not just the catastrophe.”
The Canadian Psychological Association says therapy is effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. According to the fact sheet, a Canadian study saw 77 percent of people receiving 16 sessions of psychotherapy remained anxiety-free one year after treatment.
Tosco says she teaches a tool called “imaginal exposure,” which allows a person to envision the worry and deal with the emotions without crippling day-to-day tasks, as well as an “empowerment strategy.”
“What I’ve learned with people with generalized anxiety disorder, is they come to learn that not only do they not trust the environment, but they also don’t trust themselves,” Tosco said. “If a crisis or something catastrophic does happen, they have more power and resilience than they’ve come to believe.”
Tosco says people who believe they have generalized anxiety disorder should seek help from medical professionals.
“A lot of people don’t realize worrying is fine, worrying is allowed, but if it’s consuming you to the point where you’re not functioning well, that’s when please talk to your doctor about it,” Tosco said.