Living with Daily Worry & Chronic Stress
Q: What does it mean to be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Let’s talk about “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” or GAD. It affects over 7 million adults in the US. It is a condition characterized by persistent and excessive worry about many different stressors.
Individuals living with GAD experience bias toward specific anticipatory stressors such as fears about financial security, failing health, the well-being of others, negative consequences, or other common themes related to “general” life issues.
Individuals struggling with GAD struggle to control thoughts and feelings that prompt fear and worry. They worry intensely, and the level of distress often does not match the facts of a situation.
GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months.
Additional Information about Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
- Women are twice as likely to be affected and/or more likely to seek help.
- Women often report persistent anxiety during times of hormonal shifts.
- Birth control or HRT can improve or worsen anxiety.
- Men often need encouragement to get help for anxiety conditions.
- The disorder may occur gradually or rapidly after an adverse event or after a life-challenging event.
- GAD may present at any time in the life cycle.
- GAD has biological factors, and multiple family members may report symptoms, but it is mainly related to modeling.
- GAD may be situational if a person’s life stressors exceed their ability to cope and/or problem-solve.
- Friends and loved ones of individuals with GAD often find a diagnosis unsurprising since they’re usually the ones helping individuals reason and correct probable worry-based thoughts.
- Women struggling with GAD may choose to spend time with friends who are also worriers. Generally, spending time with people who fear the same things is human nature. This can normalize GAD but can also be a pathway to healing if you see your anxious friend get help or stop avoiding their fears.
- Another interesting fact is that individuals with GAD often experience reduced anxiety when in the company of someone who is even more anxious! When it comes to anxiety, only one person in the room is the most accurate.
- Worrying can become habitual.
What’s It Like to Live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Many individuals living with GAD report fatigue from daily stress and worry. They often report an inability to shift their thoughts away from worry.
Some individuals will report good insight, while most people report worrying is helpful. It isn’t uncommon for people diagnosed with GAD to say, “I’m anxious, and I like it.” This is because a core belief is that being watchful leads to better results.
Individuals often express difficulty tolerating uncertainty. Many individuals invest hours in future planning or reviewing past outcomes to predict a future outcome.
Avoidant strategies are very high when anticipatory anxiety sets in. Anticipatory anxiety is the anxious distress that builds before an event occurs. Individuals will often fantasize about good outcomes and brainstorm ways to avoid a predicted bad outcome.
Physical sensations are reported with GAD. Common physical symptoms are stomach discomfort, headaches, bursts of energy, and pressure in the chest.
Even though GAD creates cognitive, emotional, and physical discomfort, most individuals living with GAD can function daily, parent, study, and maintain employment.
Is Medication Necessary?
Most experts agree that counseling therapy is the best course of action when a person’s anxiety level is in the mild to moderate range. Medication is not necessary unless anxious distress is blocking quality sleep, causing health problems, disrupting the quality of work or parenting, or the ability to try new behavioral patterns.
However, once the severity of anxiety is severe, medication management is usually recommended with counseling therapy. If a person’s anxiety level is severe, it can be challenging to carry out even the simplest daily activities. People often report feeling paralyzed by their anxiety symptoms.
Medication treatment is a tool in your recovery toolbox. Medication should not stop all worry and anxiety sensations.
Natural anxiety is a healthy state of cognitive and emotional well-being. Medication treatment aims to reduce anxious intensity so a person can engage in active therapy and experiential learning. Or if an individual chooses a medication-only path to recovery.
A medical screening is highly recommended if anxiety occurs quickly without any life changes or stressors. However, medical factors may also contribute if symptoms come and go (often hormone-related). Most anxiety conditions feel chronic to individuals; OCD and panic are exceptions to this pattern.
What are the best self-healing strategies for GAD?
Patients at CLC rank these as their top strategies paired with counseling:
- Weightlifting alone with upbeat music
- Daily walks
- Nurturing friendship with non-avoidant friends
- Redefining boundaries in relationships to support confidence-building
- Adaptogens herbs
- Limiting coffee to 2 cups a day or less
- Eliminating self-help books and reducing social media – or using books and social media to pursue other interests such as learning new skills or the arts
- Improving the quality of sleep and protecting sleep time
- Increasing self-care and self-investment
- Learning communication skills to be more direct and assertive
- Improving money skills
- Spending at least 2 hours a week outside
- Returning to a loved hobby or practice they used to do at a younger age
- Selecting at least 2 communities (book club, social group, sports, spiritual)
- Addressing any ignored medical issues or dietary issues
- Finding a good medical provider – who actually listens and makes helpful recommendations