Do you feel that you are constantly caught up in ‘what if’ thoughts or other worries? This can become quite exhausting and negatively affect our mental health, physical health, social interactions, and work lives.
Many people who worry feel that they should stop worrying completely. This can be very difficult as some worry is helpful for our survival. It is when the worry becomes too much that it is unhelpfully affecting our functioning and emotional and physical health.
But how much is too much? What does excessive worry look like? These are questions that might be in your mind if you experience chronic worry. Everyone experiences worry or anxiety each day. Perhaps you are worried you are going to leave late, or you have a deadline coming up and you are not sure you will make it.
This worry is short lived and once it is gone you feel at ease again. If you are worrying too much you will find that you are worrying about everything – even things you don’t need to worry about. This chronic worrying will often feel overwhelming and leave you feeling fatigued and anxious all the time.
You will find that if you are worrying too much, this worry will affect your ability to function in your everyday life. You might feel too nervous to go out with friends, you may feel too worried about sharing your idea with your manager, you might find yourself withdrawing from your usual activities because you are too worried something will go wrong.
If you experience worry in this manner, it may be a good idea to seek out a mental health professional to evaluate and determine if you are struggling with an anxiety disorder.
There are signs and symptoms that you can watch for to determine whether your worry might stem from an anxiety disorder. You will be able to decide whether the worrying is causing you distress in your everyday life and limiting how you function.
Some of the common signs are:
These symptoms might become more or less difficult depending on the stress you are experiencing. Times of greater stress will often cause these symptoms to become worse. It is at times like this where you will need to use support systems to help you through the difficult period.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD is one of the anxiety disorders classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -V – TR. This disorder affects a person’s general mental health by having elevated levels of anxiety and worry that they cannot control without intervention.
This worry is at times unfounded and other people may not understand why it is causing you distress. Even though the worry is unfounded, it does not make it any less stressful for you, in fact, this can make it more stressful as you may feel bad for worrying over it.
For example, you might be worried that someone else at a party will be wearing the same thing as you. There is no indication that this might happen, nor is there anything you can do about it – so why worry? This could be an unfounded worry that causes extreme anxiety, even to the point of you not going to the party to avoid the possibility.
GAD may be comorbid, or appear with other mental health difficulties like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic attacks. It is a good idea to receive medical assistance if you feel like you have GAD.
GAD can affect anyone, even children and teenagers. Whilst women are more prone to develop GAD this does not mean that men do not experience anxiety.
It seems that between 5 and 6% of the population will experience general anxiety over their lifespan. This may be increased after mass traumatic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
You might have a predisposition to develop generalized anxiety disorder if you have other mental health difficulties, or a close family member who has GAD. You may also be predisposed if you have unresolved trauma in your past as this can increase the hyperarousal center in your brain which can make you more anxious.
There is no specific cause for GAD, rather there are risk factors that can increase the probability of developing it after times of stress or trauma. Some of these risk factors are:
It is important to remember that if you do have GAD, it is not because of something you have done, nor is it your fault. You do not have to blame yourself for this disorder, rather look at supporting yourself through managing it.
There are a variety of ways to treat GAD, often your doctor, psychologist, and psychiatrist may work together and use a combination of these to support you and help you manage your anxiety.
You need to experiment with many different manners of managing your anxiety to find the ways that work for you. Remember that we are all individuals and what works for one may not work for another. When you experiment, you can find the best strategies for you.
Partnering with a mental health team is helpful because it will give you a support system to begin working with. They can also help you to explore different strategies and options for management techniques.
One form of support is psychotherapy sessions. These sessions might use a variety of techniques or approaches, however, one of the more common approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.
CBT focuses on the connection between thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. This connection shows that these three elements influence each other. Reframing or managing one will help you manage the others.
Psychotherapy gives you a safe space to explore the worry cycle and find how you can stop negative thinking and worry habits. This talk therapy can help with all or nothing thinking, negative thoughts, and building resilience.
This can help you reframe some of your thoughts and recognize unfounded worries as they occur and before they trigger anxious feelings. These techniques place you back in control, with this empowerment you may feel more confident to face your anxiety and manage it.
There are other forms of psychotherapy, and you will need to find the one that works for you. If you feel that the suggestions your therapist is making do not work for you, you need to let them know so they can offer something different.
Sometimes you may need medicinal support. A doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe an anti anxiety medication to help your body cope with the hyperarousal the anxiety causes. This can support your other efforts by making the brain and body ready to receive the cognitive and behavioral strategies.
These medications should be taken in accordance with the prescribing doctor’s instructions. There may be side effects that you need to be aware of and communicate with your prescribing doctor. It is also a good idea to allow the medication a few weeks to settle and begin working before you decide if it is helping you or not.
There is nothing wrong with taking medication to support your generalized anxiety disorder, it is a valid method of treatment. It is beneficial to combine medication with other support strategies like psychotherapy.
Lifestyle changes can be some of the most helpful strategies that you have to use. These can be implemented and integrated into your daily routines to help you ease the feelings of worry and anxiety you might have.
Some of these changes could be:
Journalling your thoughts and feelings can help you express what you are experiencing and from there work out what your triggers are. You can write, draw, paste pictures, etc. in your journal. This is a safe space for you to share what you are feeling. You can take some of the thoughts you have written down into your psychotherapy, but this is up to you.
Moving your body releases endorphins and these make us feel happy. Start some form of physical activity whether it is gym, yoga, dancing, or hiking. When you are doing this exercise try to stay focused on what your body is doing and experiencing. This helps your brain stay in the present moment and not float into the future where we start to worry.
Breath is a vital part of our existence, and yet we often forget to use it to help us regulate our emotions. Taking slow, deep breaths can help your body feel calmer when you are feeling anxious, and your heart starts to race.
A good breathing exercise would be to breathe in deeply for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, and breathe out slowly for a count of six. You can repeat this a few times until you feel calmer.
Eating healthy foods will strengthen your body and this builds resilience. If you feel physically strong you may be able to fight the fatigue and muscle tension pains that anxiety brings.
Some foods that you want to incorporate into your diet would be foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, eggs, Brazil nuts, dark chocolate, and yogurt. These foods have been shown to help lower feelings of anxiety.
Knowing what triggers your anxiety is helpful because it puts you in control. If you suddenly start to feel anxious you can look at your surroundings and see what has triggered you. When you know what that is you can move away from it and regulate yourself. You can also avoid triggers if you are aware of them. For example, if a trigger is a crowd of people you can choose to go shopping on a weekday morning when there are less people in the shop.
When our minds start racing with anxious thoughts, we can use our bodies to bring us back into the present. Using our senses is a powerful way to regulate our bodies. Think of something that smells nice to you. Maybe it is lavender, or lemongrass. Now look for a hand cream or essential oil with this scent. When you feel anxious you can smell this and remember to take a few breaths. You can do this with touch as well.
There are many lifestyle changes that you can explore with the guidance of your therapist to help you manage your GAD or anxious feelings.
When we are anxious, it is tempting to push people away and hide from social interactions. This is not always the best plan of action. We often need to have support around us to help us conquer these difficult feelings.
You can get this social support in two different ways. The first way is by rallying your social network. Find the people you trust and that will be there for you. Explain to them what is happening and what you need from them. This might be someone to talk to, someone to reassure you, a fun outing, or an accountability partner.
When you have these people around you, you feel less alone, and it can become easier to commit to other changes you are making. These changes are supported by your network, and this enhances their efficacy.
The other way you can gain social support is to find an anxiety support group. These groups are made up of people who struggle with anxiety in its many different forms. It can be helpful to have people around you that are going through similar challenges. This raises their empathy, and it makes you feel understood and validated. You might also learn new coping strategies and techniques to use that have helped other people in the support group.
Experiencing worry and anxiety can be part of a normal daily routine when it becomes excessive and limits your functioning and enjoyment then you may be looking at an anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder.
If you feel that this might be you, reach out to us at One Life Counselling and Coaching to book an appointment with one of our therapists. We will be there to help you unpack your feelings and find ways to support yourself and manage your anxiety.
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