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Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What is it and how can you manage it?

In life, it’s normal to worry occasionally. Who hasn’t been worried about something before, whether it be money, work, or interpersonal relationships? But what happens when you don’t know where the worrying is coming from? What happens when the worrying won’t go away, and starts to affect your everyday life? If this is the case, an anxiety disorder may be involved.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is one of several types of anxiety disorders. It involves a feeling of anxiety or dread that can persist for months, or even years. This excessive worry can involve specific situations or even everyday life.

What are symptoms of GAD?

While it doesn’t look the same for everyone, some symptoms of GAD include feeling tense or restless, poor focus, irritability, persistent worrying, and indecisiveness. You might be wondering what GAD looks like in your body as well. Some physical symptoms include troubles sleeping, feeling weak or tired, sweating, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and muscle tension / aches. We all experience these kinds of symptoms from time to time, but when they last for more than 6 months they might be diagnosable as Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

How does GAD affect someone’s daily life?

Individuals with GAD may feel like they’re worrying too much, to the point where it interferes with work or school, relationships, and other parts of their lives. They may feel distressed if they feel like anxiety has taken over their life or avoid situations that might make them feel more anxious. It can impact peoples ability to focus in school or at work or feel so overwhelming that it keeps them from getting anything done at all. Relationships can be severely impacted from irritability stemming from the daily anxiety, leading individuals to act out in irritability and argue with their loved ones. The anxiety can also cause some to avoid trying new things out of fear of experiencing more symptoms of anxiety.

What can you do to manage symptoms of GAD?

There are several interventions that can help people manage their symptoms of GAD. Here are a few.

  1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment, focusing on the present rather than thoughts of the past or future. As you practice mindfulness, you’ll notice the sensations you’re feeling in the present moment. Try not to “judge” the things that you notice. Mindful breathing is one way to practice mindfulness, as elaborated below. Mindfulness helps with anxiety in that it helps bring your attention away from anxiety-provoking thoughts and back to the present moment.

  1. Deep breathing

Deep breathing is a technique that may help in moments of anxiety. This technique has three parts to it. The first part is the physiological aspect. Try breathing in through your nose for four seconds, slowly and steadily. Next, breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds. If this is too difficult, you can modify the number of seconds as long as there is a 2:1 ratio between breathing in and breathing out. The second part of this technique is mindfulness, as discussed above. In order to practice mindful breathing, simply take a few minutes to focus on your breathing and notice what it feels like in your body. Finally, the third part is diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. This helps you take more air into your lungs. When you breathe in, your stomach should expand outwards. When you breathe out, your stomach should move inwards. Deep breathing helps with anxiety in that it helps you take deeper breaths rather than the shallow, quick breaths or hyperventilation that may accompany anxiety. As a result, there is more oxygen in the brain and heart rate is reduced. In addition, controlled breaths and the sensation of counting may help individuals regain a sense of control.

  1. See a mental health professional

Therapy with a mental health professional can help you address possible causes of anxiety and work on reducing anxiety symptoms by teaching you how to utilize skills such as mindfulness, deep breathing, and others. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one evidence-based treatment that helps individuals with GAD. In this modality, the thoughts and behaviors that interact to cause anxiety are identified and addressed. In more severe cases, psychiatric medication might be helpful in assisting therapy also and a psychiatric referral might be provided by a therapist.

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