People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have excessive, uncontrollable, and unrealistic worries about normal things most of the time. Most people with GAD even worry about the fact that they worry so much. Worrying about all sorts of things gives them the feeling they are in control of the situation (insecurities and uncertainties are eliminated or reduced to a minimum). Coping with generalized anxiety disorder can be very difficult for people, because it means that they have to start tolerating insecurity and uncertainty. This pages focuses on coping with generalized anxiety disorder for people with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder. This page will probably not be effective for people with sever GAD, because their symptoms are too severe to deal with on their own. Therefore, we recommend people with severe GAD to reach out to a professional.
At Barends Psychology Practice we offer (online) therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Contact usto schedule a first, free of charge, online session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).
Coping with generalized anxiety disorder – 1 Monitor your feelings.
People with generalized anxiety disorder are very sensitive to setbacks, because that is an indicator of failure for them. According to many with GAD, a minor setback may be the start of a bigger setback and that could eventually lead to disease, losing friends, their job, and more. Setbacks, however, are normal and inevitable. Coping with generalized anxiety disorder means you experience good and bad days. One day you manage your worries quite well, whereas the other day things won’t go that smooth. In the end it’s all about the bigger picture: on average, are you making progress?
That’s why it’s important to monitor your feelings. This way you can check if there is any improvement.
At the end of each day write down on a scale from 0-100: How anxious was I today? (you can compare your level of anxiousness with that of yesterday. Example: yesterday I gave myself a 50. Today I am more anxious than yesterday, so I give myself a 65).
At the end of each day write down on a scale from 0-100: How much did I worry today? (you can compare your amount of worries with that of yesterday. Example: yesterday I gave myself a 60. Today I have been worrying less than yesterday, so I give myself a 35).
Coping with generalized anxiety disorder – 2 Understanding the nature of your worries.
There are two different types of worries:
1. The functional worries (about current problems): these worries actually help you solve problems and difficulties (Example: How will I manage to finish that report by Monday morning?). This type of problems can be solved, and you have control over the situation.
2. The dysfunctional worries (about hypothetical situations): these worries will not help you solve problems and difficulties, because you have little control over them at this very moment. (Example: What if we catch a parasite with a horrible disease on our trip in Brazil next month?). This type of problems cannot be solved by worrying a lot. You have almost no control over the hypothetical situation and worrying about it doesn’t help you at all.
These problems have a different nature so we need to deal with them in a different way. Therefore it is important to write down which type of worries you have (functional or dysfunctional). Use a worry diary for this. For each day write down what your worries were about. If there are a few persistent and recurrent worries, please mark them! Don’t worry: writing your worries down on a paper will not increase your GAD symptoms.
Coping with generalized anxiety disorder – 3 Managing your anxiety and worries.
Now that you classified your worries, we can focus on managing your anxiety and worries. This can be a difficult part, because it means that you have to practice with tolerating uncertainty.
First, take your functional worry list and prioritize them (most important worries on top of your list).
Second, write down possible solutions for each of the functional worries. Example: How will I finish that report by Monday morning? Solution A: ‘cancel tennis class for Saturday and ask husband to cook for dinner’, because this way you have more time on Saturday. Alternative solution B: ‘work on my report in the evenings’ (Friday evening and Saturday evening). Option C: ‘Wake up early this Sunday and work on my report. Cancel all activities for the morning and early afternoon’. Solution D: etc. etc.
Third, rate each solution from 0-10 (10 meaning: best solution).
Fourth, execute the best solution.
By dealing with the functional worries first you’ll reduce your anxiety and the amount of worries you have. But we are not done yet, because you still have to deal with the hardest part, dysfunctional worries. Dysfunctional worries are more difficult to deal with, because people experience little control over them. However, the following tips may help you a lot:
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The Dysfunctional worries usually keep coming back and can make you feel nervous, restless, agitated, and stressed. Having no control over these issues makes you worry about them a lot, and this worrying creates a temporarily reduced level of anxiety, and gives you the feeling that there is less uncertainty about these issues. Unfortunately, you can’t really solve the dysfunctional worries so they keep popping up every now and then. Coping with generalized anxiety disorder means tolerating uncertainty, as tolerating uncertainty becomes easier if you expose yourself more to uncertainty. In other words, forcing yourself not to worry and by calming yourself down. There are a few ways in which you can practice this:
Breathing technique: A pounding heart, muscle tension and trembling are all physical responses to stress and anxiety. At the same time these physical responses tell your mind that there is a reason to be anxious. By applying a breathing technique, you can reduce your anxiety levels. (1) Make sure you sit/stand comfortably. (2) Slowly breath in through your nose. (3) Wait a second or two. (4) Breath out through your mouth. (5) Repeat steps 1 to 4 until you calmed down.
Relaxing your muscles: Another way to reduce anxiety levels is by relaxing your muscles. (1) Sit comfortably on a chair, the floor or on the bed. (2) Close your eyes and breath in and out slowly for about 10 seconds. (3) Focus on one part of your body and try to relax this part a bit more each time you breath out. (4) Focus your attention to another part of your body and repeat step 3. (5) Continue this process for at least 8 minutes.
Self talk: Every time you notice you are starting to think of a dysfunctional worry topic tell yourself that you are about to start worrying again, and that you don’t want this right now. Then think of something fun to do or focus on the task you are busy with. Repeat the self-talk each time one of the dysfunctional worry topics pop up.
Exercise for the mind
Expose yourself to uncertainty: As mentioned before, people start worrying to get rid of this feeling of insecurity/uncertainty, because it makes them anxious. Unfortunately, this strategy isn’t very effective. A rule of thumb is: the more you expose yourself to a fearful object/situation/feeling the more used you get to it and the less anxious you feel about it. A good way to get used to uncertainty is to act as if you’re certain about something, because that gives you subconsciously more confidence. Examples: (1) If you are afraid to make mistakes in reports/homework, don’t reread them over and over again, but instead send it once you’ve finished writing it. (2) If you have difficulty picking a movie/wine to watch/drink, pick the one that first popped up and stick to it. (3) Don’t prepare yourself for things others wouldn’t prepare for either.
Be sure to start with something small, because you’ll have a higher change of succeeding. Starting with something bigger without professional guidance could be counter effective. Write down what you fear will happen (if you exposure yourself to uncertainty), and expose yourself to this uncertainty, and afterwards check if what you feared really happened.
Remember: the more your expose yourself to uncertainty (in as many situations and mood states as possible) the easier it becomes to feel comfortable with uncertainty.
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Coping with generalized anxiety disorder – 4 Consider reaching out to a professional.
If the above mentioned steps did not have the desired effect for you, then it may be a good idea to reach out to a professional. Perhaps your generalized anxiety disorder symptoms are too severe to manage by yourself. However, it could also be that professional treatment is simply more effective for you. Research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and exposure therapy are effective ways to treat generalized anxiety disorder, because they focus on creating acceptance of uncertainty.
In some cases the recurrent worries people wrote down at point 2 (last sentence) cause so much anxiety and worry that it’s better to treat these with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
At Barends Psychology Practice I offer (online) therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Contact meto schedule a first, free of charge, online session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).