Collectively, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses among adults in the U.S. They account for about 19% of the adult population. Today I’m going to be focusing specifically on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (abbreviated GAD). If you’ve never heard of GAD, here’s a brief rundown.
To be diagnosed with GAD, you have to:
- be worried about things you know shouldn’t worry you as much as they do
- worry more days than not for 6+ months
- you can’t control it, or it takes an absurd amount of energy to control it
- you regularly feel three of these:
- on edge or restless
- easily tired
- unable to concentrate
- unable to think (mind goes blank)
- tense in your body
- unable to sleep well
- your constant worry makes it difficult for you to do some or most of your day-to-day activities
- your worry isn’t from another diagnosis or drugs
If you think you might have GAD, consult a medical and/or psychiatric professional.
Types of Anxiety
There are two types of anxiety: “normal” anxiety, and “abnormal” anxiety.
Normal anxiety is when you have a real reason to be worried: car accident, a family member’s health condition, a test, financial stress, etc. Everyone has normal anxiety.
Abnormal anxiety is when you’re reaction is way off from what it should be. For example, you’re running late to work, but your level of worry is the same as if you just got fired. These things are very different.
People with GAD experience both types of anxiety.
Basically, GAD is having your survival response (fight, flight, or freeze) triggered when it shouldn’t be. Another way to look at it is you think you’re in danger when you’re not. When you’re in a frightening situation (car accident, roller coaster, haunted house, etc.), this is a good response to have. When you’re late to work, this is a very bad response to have. And it happens for no real reason.
GAD is basically living as Chicken Little: you feel like the sky is falling but really it’s just another Thursday.
People experience anxiety differently. Some people experience headaches, nausea, gastrointestinal problems, racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking/trembling, and more. You can have all of these, some of these, or none of these. I personally experience nausea, gastrointestinal problems, racing heartbeat, and shaking.
People with GAD aren’t always anxious, but they’re anxious more than they’re not. Like depression, it’s not very predictable, and it cannot be willed away. People with GAD would definitely love to be less anxious. I know I would.
Medication can be extremely helpful with managing anxiety. There are many different types of medications, as well. Most people associate taking Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan with managing anxiety in the moment, but did you know there are other medications you can take? There are medications you take everyday that help you, too. I take medication every day and it’s been amazing.
As always, medication isn’t the only way to manage and treat GAD. Therapy can be helpful. Eating right and exercising is also helpful. Avoid caffeine (sorry coffee lovers!) because it mimics and exacerbates the symptoms. As always, having a good support system is helpful. Mindful practices (meditation, yoga, etc.), particularly deep breathing, are incredible coping skills to manage GAD.
Mindfulness is the practice of being intentional, being reflective, and living in the moment. There are innumerable ways to be mindful and individuals with mental health disorders can benefit from mindfulness and positive ways to cope with their symptoms. Mindfulness is particularly helpful to people with Borderline Personality Disorder and anxiety disorders.
Mindfulness can take many different forms and can be used in almost every situation imaginable. Here is a list of basic applications of mindfulness:
- Managing anxiety
- Self-regulation of emotions
- Stress reduction
- Mental clarity/focus
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, as well. Some ways work better than others, depending on the purpose. I’m going to focus on anxiety-reducing mindfulness techniques that have worked for me today. This includes deep breathing, guided imagery/relaxation, music, and having a pet.
Deep breathing has been the most effective mindfulness technique for reducing my anxiety.
The most commonly taught technique is Square Breathing, but there is also Belly Breathing and simply focusing on your breath.
All of these can be done standing, sitting, or lying down. You can do anything of these exercises with your eyes open or closed. Pick whatever is most comfortable for you.
Fun Fact: Deep breathing is the most effective way to manage anxiety in the moment.
Square breathing consists of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding that breathing for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, and a final 4 seconds before you begin again. You can use any number you choose, though I recommend starting with 4 seconds.
Square breathing is typically taught to be done through the nose, though I find it much easier and more soothing to breathe through my mouth.
You can use any number of seconds to make it easier for you.
Alternative: You can inhale and exhale for longer than the time you hold your breath. For example, you can breathe in for 6 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Feel free to use any number that works for you.
Belly breathing causes you to focus on your stomach as you inhale and exhale.
Place your hand on your stomach to monitor the movement. Focus on inhaling deeply, storing the air in your stomach. Deep in for as long as you can, comfortably. Hold the breath in your stomach for 4 seconds, then exhale steadily for as long as possible, comfortably. Repeat.
Alternative: Do square belly breathing.
Focus On Your Breath
This is my preferred technique, which I often use while lying down with my eyes closed.
Get into a comfortable position. Focus all your attention on your current breathing pattern without changing it. Shift your focus to breathing in deeply and exhaling deeply. Let any thoughts that come to you drift away, focusing only on your breathing.
Alternative: Do this while listening to guided imagery or guided meditation. I use F*ck That: An Honest Meditation (not safe for work).
These are fantastic tools to use with deep breathing or to use independently (some include deep breathing). Guided Imagery, Guided Relaxation, and Guided Meditation have many similarities and are often used interchangeably.
You can find a variety of videos and audio files to use whenever works best for you. I’ve included a list of several helpful recordings for you for both. If these do not work for you, Youtube is full of great videos to use.
Guided Imagery is a form of meditation where you follow a prompt (often recorded) dedicated to creating a mental scene to help improve overall well-being.
Guided Relaxation is a form of guided muscle relaxation in which you follow a prompt (often recorded) to reduce stress or other negative emotions.
Guided meditation is a form of meditation in which you follow a prompt (often recorded) to help eliminate outside stressors and focus on your personal experience in the moment. It is present-focused and introspective.
This is my preferred technique. I’ve included my favorite video first:
Additional Resources (Audio Files)
Music can be very helpful when you experience anxiety, too. Listening to music can be a form of grounding. This can be helpful to separate yourself from whatever is making you anxious. People select different types of music to help. I personally choose a variety of upbeat and positive music. Other people choose classical or instrumental music because lyrics can be too distracting.
For example, here’s a sample list of music I listen to when I’m anxious:
- Little Swing by AronChupa & Little Sis Nora
- Hook Me Up by The Veronicas (or anything by The Veronicas)
- Killin’ It by Krewella
- Harlem by New Politics
- I’m Alright by Jo Dee Messina
- Peanut Butter by RuPaul
- Paper Planes by M.I.A.
- Tonight Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae
- Bad Girls by M.I.A.
- Emergency by Icona Pop
- Break The Rules by Charli XCX
- I Love It by Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX
- World Town by M.I.A.
- America’s Sweetheart by Elle King
- The Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson
- Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics
- Freaks by Timmy Trumpet & Savage
- Another One Bites the Dust by Queen
- All Around the World by R3HAB & A Touch of Class
- Maneater by Nelly Furtado
- Broken by Lucky Boys Confusion
- Spice Up Your Life by The Spice Girls
- Hell No by Ingrid Michaelson (the music video will make you smile regardless of your mood):
Obviously, you should pick whatever music works best for you. The above list is just a selection of the type of songs that work for me.
Pets are an incredible way to focus on the present. Both of my dogs are full of personality and I am able to use the moments I spend with them to be entirely present on the limited time we have together. When I become overwhelmed with work, personal life, blogging, or I’m just feeling ill, they keep me grounded on what is important: right now.
In addition to keeping me focused on on the present, both of my dogs are an endless source of entertainment. They are also a common reminder to care for myself. Plus, they make amazing cuddle companions.
- Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with GAD.
- Headaches, IBS, and Major Depressive Disorder are common co-occurring disorders for people with GAD.
- Approximately 3.1% of U.S. adults, or 6.8 million people, have a GAD diagnosis.
- Most people with anxiety report feeling anxious their entire lives
- People are most commonly diagnosed in in their 30s.
- Only 1/3 of people with anxiety disorders seek treatment.
- 1 in 8 children have an anxiety disorder.
- Untreated anxiety can result in substance abuse.
- There is no known cause for GAD.
- Anxiety is highly treatable.
Where did you learn about anxiety? Was it accurate? What do you do to help manage your stress or anxiety?