What if I’m going to lose my job, my friend is mad at me, and I will be alone for the rest of my life? It’s common to experience troubling worries like these. But if you’re experiencing excessive anxiety that is difficult to control and interfering with your daily life, you might have generalized anxiety disorder. Thankfully, there are a few self-help strategies for generalized anxiety disorder that will aid your anxiety levels if you feel like you’re spinning out.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves a state of perpetual worry even where there is nothing to worry about. It’s overwhelming, difficult to control, and causes profound emotional pain for the person experiencing it. In fact, worrying might be so engrained into your identity that you think that’s just how you are. Friends might even make statements like, “You’re always worrying. Just relax”. Yet, it’s not always so simple to relax. Your worries may include health, money, family, work, and even current global events. And while everyone worries about these problems from time to time, someone with generalized anxiety disorder expects the worst and their worrying often leads to difficulties living their lives.
What Are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Like other anxiety disorders like panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder, the symptoms of GAD are different for everyone. However, there are a few common symptoms to observe if you’re worried about yourself or a loved one.
- Constant worry
- Unable to relax
- Easily startled
- Difficulty making decisions
- Poor concentration
- Struggles to handle uncertainty
- Worried about worst-case scenarios
- Muscle tension
- Body aches
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Intrusive or unwanted thoughts
8 Self Help Strategies for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga, and meditation are all techniques that help you quiet your racing mind. When you slow down, you learn to value the present moment rather than worrying about preparing or anticipating the future.
2. Learn your triggers
After finding your preferred calming technique, take a moment to reflect on what causes your anxiety. There might be multiple sources, but there may also be situations that make you more anxious than others. For example, perhaps a colleague is draining your energy, or a roommate isn’t respecting boundaries. When you’re aware of your triggers, you’ll have increased clarity to begin creating a plan to overcome them.
3. Shift your thinking
When you’re anxious, your go-to might be to think of all the possible reasons what you’re worried about can’t be true. For example, if you’re worried whether a friend is mad at you, you might replay all past interactions looking for signs to ensure you didn’t make a mistake. At this moment, you’re essentially trying to avoid uncertainty, the unknown. But unfortunately, we can’t predict the future, nor do you know for certain if your friend is mad at you (unless you ask them). So, the solution is to not tend to your anxiety. While this sounds impossible, try shifting your thinking to whatever you’re doing in the present moment – eating, watching tv, breathing, anything. Your brain will eventually learn that worrying isn’t necessary to keep you safe and will stop providing more reasons to feel anxious to avoid uncertainty.
4. Productive problem-solving
Those with GAD have a strong urge to analyze situations causing anxiety to help them feel better. And while it feels productive and useful, it’s not helping you go anywhere. It’s keeping you stuck. Instead, work through your problems focused on finding solutions. For example, if you’re worrying about multiple things, ask yourself, “Is there an actual problem I can solve, or am I just worrying to worry?” If there is one, begin creating a step-by-step plan to tackle one of your concerns with a solution-focused mindset.
5. Face procrastination
Procrastination is an emotional symptom of GAD. Your growing to-do list and building concerns can make you so anxious that you hit a roadblock and feel paralyzed to move forward. Yet, falling behind on your responsibilities will feed more anxiety. To stop procrastinating, start small and pick one item. For example, if your apartment is dirty, causing you anxiety and making it more challenging to work, pick one room like the kitchen and wash the dishes. Getting started with one small step will provide an instant boost of encouragement and lower your anxiety.
6. Ask a different question
Anxiety can often feel like it’s the only thing your mind can focus on, leading you to ask questions like “What’s wrong with me”?, and “Why can’t I stop worrying?” Unfortunately, asking these questions just feeds your anxiety even more. When this occurs, instead of punishing yourself for feeling anxious, ask a different question, “What is one thing I can do to feel better”? Choose one concern and redirect your focus. It’s a technique that will shift your mindset and let your feelings flow into the background.
7. Practice acceptance
It can feel second nature to hate or criticize yourself when you’re anxious. You may even realize that your anxiety is intense and disrupting your life, causing you to turn up the self-hate volume a little more. But remember that your anxiety is not because you’re doing anything wrong, you’re not enough, or you’re flawed. Anxiety is your brain’s system of trying to keep you safe, but it needs a little tweaking. As challenging as it sounds, accepting yourself despite your anxiety is a way to retrain your brain to stop worrying. It’s also one less thing to worry about when you begin loving and accepting the person you are.
8. Get outside
Since GAD involves physical symptoms like a racing heart, upset stomach, and muscle tension, this article wouldn’t be helpful if it didn’t include physical strategies for generalized anxiety disorder. Moving your body is not only a great way to manage stress, but getting outside in nature can be twofold for your anxiety. Whenever possible, prioritize a daily walk. And instead of focusing on whether it’s helping you, focus on your senses. Take in your surroundings, breathe the fresh air, and move your body as you connect to the world around you.
When to seek help
If your anxiety is causing problems in your everyday life and preventing you from completing daily tasks within your school, home, and work-life, it’s time to seek professional help. Cognitive behavior therapy will help you change the thoughts that support your fears and avoidance of uncertainty, including how you react to situations that intensify or worsen your anxiety. A therapist will guide you through exercises and techniques and teach you how to identify common cognitive distortions impacting your internal dialogue.
Although managing your anxiety may feel overwhelming, there are several resources to help you on your journey. Practicing any of these strategies for generalized anxiety disorder, including being kind to yourself and or talking with a mental health professional, can help you navigate any challenges you face.
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