While everyone has experienced feeling anxious at times of high stress, worry or anticipation, some people having feelings like this more than they feel they should.
As a group, anxiety disorders includes generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is by far the most common, and is characterised by persistent worrying about everyday life and events that people find hard to control. While most people worry about things like finances, relationships, health and family, these worries tend not to interfere in the function of everyday life.
However people with GAD often describe describe their level of worry as excessive, and feel they blow things out of proportion. It often results in effecting their work, social life, and sometimes getting physical symptoms and high levels of emotional distress.
In every given year about 3% of people are diagnosed with GAD, and there is a 9% lifetime risk of developing it.
One core feature is an intolerance of uncertainty about the future, and worrying about worrying.
The symptoms tend to fluctuate over time, and people do experience remissions – periods of 3 months or more without any worries.
Being afraid of a threatening event is an absolutely normal response. A big final exam coming up, seeing a snake on a walking trail, being physically confronted by an aggressive animal. Our body tenses up, breathing rate increases, heart begins to race, and we’re ready to take flight (or fight).
In people with anxiety they begin to perceive everyday events as threatening, and as such they are in a pervasive and constant state of worry. And if they don’t learn to cope, these events can be perceived as major threats.
Getting better means getting control of your anxiety. The key components are;
Some medications such as anti-depressant medications have shown to be helpful in managing symptoms, however are often only effective as long as they are taken. They may play a role in controlling significant anxiety while the CBT process is beginning.
Benzodiazepines were previously used extensively, but have been shown not to be helpful in the long term and have a highly addictive potential.
The fight or flight response is experienced as a set of symptoms
Management of the fight or flight response – there are 2 things that need to occur
One common way of dealing with this is to avoid situations that seem threatening, but if you do this the anxiety will be worse the next time you face that situation. The best strategy is to confront the feared situation. Usually, things go better than you thought. And if they don’t you learn valuable coping skills by confronting your fears.
When you find yourself worrying, ask yourself the following questions:
Is the thing you fear really likely to happen? How can you be sure? Is there another possible explanation or outcome? Are you trying to predict things in the distant future that you can’t possibly know anything about? If it does happen, how much will it really matter? How would someone else see this worry?
If your worry has some basis, but there is nothing you can do about it right now, then see if you can accept the worry and let it go. This can seem difficult for expert worriers, but try to say “There’s nothing I can do to change this right now, thinking about it will only make me more upset. I’ll accept the worry and get busy with something else for now”.
If there is a realistic problem, then you may need to focus on finding solutions for it. Good problem solving can be thought of as helpful or adaptive worry.
Try The Six-Step Structured Problem Solving Technique
Did that help you solve the problem? If not, have you learnt a better way of defining it? if so, write down the new problem and do the six steps again. This is as good as medication for many people.
Anxiety is made worse by life’s stressors, and has characteristic symptoms that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and everyday functioning.
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