Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” ~Leo F. Buscaglia
Millions of us are living lives disproportionately full of worry. This excessive worrying outweighs the possible impact that the occurrence of the anxiety-provoking event would have on our lives. We are not able to manage or control the thoughts that flood our minds. We are consumed with worry about family, health, work and everyday life events. While a certain amount of worry is a healthy reaction to life’s stressors, individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have uncontrollable and excessive anxiety over such events.
According to the National Insitute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States. This is approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54. Research suggests that anxiety is the number one mental health issue in Northern America. According to the DSM-5, to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, one must have uncontrollable and excessive anxiety or worry for a majority of days within a 6 month period that is causing clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. Further, 3 of the following additional symptoms must be displayed by adults.
- Restlessness or feeling on edge
- Easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
The constant worrying depletes a person of energy and time that is needed to function properly at home or at work. This may manifest itself in lower productivity at work, irritability and a lower tolerance for stress in daily life and when interacting with others. According to the DSM-5, the symptoms of GAD tend to be chronic, but ebb and flow throughout a person’s life. With the proper coping skills a person can learn new ways to manage mental, emotional and physical distress.
The following are techniques that have been shown to help with symptoms of GAD.
1. Exposure therapy
Although not widely used, research has shown that exposure therapy is effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder. By establishing a course of treatment that encourages a person to confront either external or internal fears, one can learn to moderate the fearful reactions that are evoked. For example, if a person is excessively anxious and worried about eating in public, they can purposefully induce worrisome thoughts in a safe environment and confront the feelings that are elicited. By being exposed to these uncomfortable sensations, a person can condition their amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses to be more resilient.
2. Change your thinking
Anxiety is often a result of ruminating on worrisome thoughts that are unrealistic. Here are three general ways that rumination may occur.
Over-generalizing: A form of rumination that occurs when a person sees things as all-or-nothing. An example of this would be if a person makes one mistake they may begin to think that the entire project will be a failure. Another example would be if a person does not like a particular characteristic of someone, they may decide that they do not like the person at all.
Catastrophizing: A form of rumination that occurs when a person fixates their attention solely on the worst possible outcome. An example of this would be if a person’s employer asks to speak with them, the employee’s assumption may be that they will soon be fired. Another example of this would be if a person’s car breaks down they may assume that the car is not repairable.
Mind reading: A form of rumination that occurs when a person assumes that they know what another person is thinking. A person may assume that someone thinks they are stupid even when there is no evidence to support their thought.
One way to stop ruminating is to focus on shifting your mental gears. When we ruminate we are stuck in a mental space overwhelmed with negative thoughts. We need to jolt ourselves out of this place. When you begin to ruminate, ask yourself is this thought is helpful. If it is not, verbally tell yourself to stop. By speaking this out loud it may take you out of the space you are in. Further, you can remove yourself mentally by recalling a positive experience. Try to visualize yourself in a different setting perhaps enjoying an afternoon walk. You can also take an actual walk or physically place yourself in a place that brings up positive emotions.
Accept that you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and worry. Acknowledge that these feelings, although uncomfortable, are not harmful. By working through these feelings and understanding that no harm is being done, you may be encouraged to press on in the direction that is aligned with your truest values.
4. Mindfulness-based approach
Reflect on what it is in your daily life that is triggering your anxiety and worry. By assessing your daily routine you can begin to identify what needs to change in your life. Perhaps you need to exercise, eat healthy, sleep more or make some other adjustment to your daily routine. Further, it is important to determine whether your anxiety is solvable. If there is a linear way to resolve the tension then a positive action is necessary. Keep in mind, there may not be a succinct solution to address anxious feelings. If this is the case then an attitude of acceptance will be most effective. Lastly, your mind is much like your body in that what you ingest, you digest and then manifest. Feed your mind daily with positive ideas. I believe that a single quote can change a perspective and thus, change a life.
If you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder or any other form of anxiety and would like to share what is effective for you in managing the symptoms please share in the comments section.
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