What is Anxiety?

There are many different manifestations of anxiety including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks and panic disorder, phobias, and social anxiety disorder. There are other diagnoses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that are also associated with anxiety. This article focuses specifically on GAD. When someone has GAD, they have excessive worry that occurs more days than not for at least 6 months about a number of things, which they find difficult to control and which interferes with their ability to function. Anxiety can be experienced as restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, having difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance. GAD can also often associated with stomach problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Because GAD is associated with distress and impairment, is not the same thing as "normal" worry. Anxiety disorders are one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions.


Ways of Managing Anxiety

"Normal" worry can be helpful in terms of planning and preparing for things. But, when worry becomes excessive, such as in GAD, particularly if you are concerning yourself with things outside your control, it is unproductive. However, one of the key reasons that GAD is maintained is because people think that their anxious thoughts are protective in some way, as though they are anticipating, and somehow preventing, future problems. Now, if you have "normal" worry and are concerned about something that you can take actionable steps towards, your anxiety might be helpful, but if your anxiety is excessive and interfering with your life and your ability to take action, or you are worrying about things outside your control, it is more likely that your anxiety is not only unproductive but generating additional and unnecessary worry.


Notice if you think your anxiety is helping you and examine the evidence: Are there actionable steps you can take? If not, is it really helping you or is it actually negatively impacting you in some way?


"If it can be solved, there is no need to worry and if it can't be solved, then worry is of no use."

~Dali Lama


If you find that your anxiety is calling you to action in some way, but are feeling too overwhelmed to take the first step, consider this: anxiety lies in anticipation rather than in action. You might actually be prolonging your anxiety by procrastinating, rather than taking action, and find that once you do, the anxiety dissipates.


"When you are fully present in the moment, there is no anticipatory fear, no anxiety, because you are just here and now, not in the future."

~Ram Dass


Another one of the main strategies I suggest in managing GAD is finding a way to come back to the present moment; for example, instead of asking, "what if" asking "what is." This is a mindfulness-based strategy. Mindfulness can be very helpful in terms of managing anxiety. If you didn't read my blog post on mindfulness, which you can check out here, I want to be very clear about something: Mindfulness is not a relaxation technique and it is not intended to get rid of your anxiety. What? Yes, you read that correctly! Mindfulness is not meant to get rid of anxiety. While relaxation is often a byproduct of practicing meditation, it is not the goal. Rather, the goal of meditating (if there is a goal at all) is simply to be present with your experience, in a kind, compassionate, and accepting way. What is the point of practicing mindfulness if it doesn't get rid of your anxiety? Well, because learning how to be present with your anxiety in a kind and gentle way can radically transform your experience so that it no longer causes distress or impairment. Mindfulness is also a powerful tool when it comes to developing a sense of trust that will allow you to practice acceptance and let go of things outside your control.


"Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to live in the present moment."

~Thich Nhat Hanh


Resources

You can learn more about GAD here. I am also a big fan of The Mindful Way Through Anxiety and the associated workbook, Worry Less, Live More. You might also check out the Mindful Way Through Anxiety website, where they have free mindfulness exercises you can practice to begin experiencing relating to your anxiety in a different way, with less resistance and more acceptance as well as compassion. You might also be interested in the Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. You can also learn more about managing anxiety in my book, which you can purchase here.


If you are interested in learning more or in working with me please go to my homepage to contact me or schedule your free 15-minute phone call.


Please note that the information in this blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for psychological or medical care.  If you are looking for professional help, visit my resources page for guidance on how to find a therapist.  If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.


© 2020 Carissa Gustafson, Psy.D.  All rights reserved.