Anxiety is normal. We all feel anxiety from time to time, and it is essential in our everyday lives to be able to plan for unexpected eventualities by worrying a little bit about the possibilities and how we can overcome them, or reacting to stressful situations and threats with a ‘fight or flight’ response.
However, when the worries become constant and chronic, are affecting everyday life, and are disproportionate to the situation (for example refusing to ever turn right when driving for fear of crossing the path of traffic) this is anxiety.
Approximately 1 in 4 people are affected by, or have been affected by, anxiety disorders. There are many different types of anxiety, including:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Phobia
- Specific phobias (such as spiders or snakes)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Health Anxiety
This blog post will cover Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and other future posts will focus on some of the other types of anxiety.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
GAD is the most common type of anxiety. It involves experiencing excessive and chronic worrying that takes over your life, and often involves irrational and unrealistic worries.
For example, being worried about running late for work when you’ve woken up late and the bus you’re sitting on is normal and realistic. But worrying about being late after getting up early (despite losing sleep over worrying); catching a bus much earlier than you needed to; repeating this daily despite always arriving early when the office isn’t open yet; then obsessively worrying how people view you for waiting outside the office alone when it is closed, is excessive. When we are thinking this way, our thoughts:
- Overestimate the likelihood of the feared outcome (I’m definitely, and always going to be, late)
- Overestimate the awfulness of the feared outcome (I am going to get shouted at by my boss, get sacked, and then I’ll never be able to get another job)
- Underestimate our ability to cope with the feared outcome (I won’t be able to explain myself correctly, which will make me seem incompetent, and I’m not smart enough to find another job)
There are both physical and psychological symptoms of GAD (Source: NHS), and you would be considered to be experiencing GAD if you have had some of them for 6 months or more:
|Psychological Symptoms||Physical Symptoms|
a sense of dread
feeling constantly ‘on edge’
shortness of breath
muscle aches and tension
trembling or shaking
pins and needles
difficulty falling or staying asleep
a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
It is important to note that not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way, and that’s why seeing your GP – or another suitably qualified professional – is important if you’re worried you have GAD. They are likely to ask you to do a questionnaire that looks a bit like this (please note this is not a substitution for a diagnosis), signpost to help available in your local area, and offer medication if this is something you feel comfortable with (only mental health professionals who prescribe can do this). A doctor can also rule out potential biological causes with blood tests, such as Vitamin B12 deficiency, or hyperthyroidism.
What Can I Do?
It’s important to remember that avoidance underlies all of the anxiety disorders; as we don’t like feeling anxious, we tend to try and avoid the source of anxiety. The more you have the thoughts, the more you feel anxious, and they feed off of each other – so we avoid the source of these anxious thoughts. Whilst this makes sense, and it temporarily decreases your anxiety, it then increases your desire to avoid the situation altogether – making it more difficult to overcome. This is how we end up becoming isolated, and avoiding doing things that are important for our health (such as going to the dentist) or spending time with our friends and family (due to fear of going to a public place because of worries about a terror attack).
I have had anxiety described to me as, in terms of wasting energy, as useful as repeatedly rocking back in forth in a rocking chair expecting it go to somewhere. So how can we switch to a more mobile chair, maybe one with wheels? Or even getting up and walking?
Aside from visiting your GP or a suitably qualified mental health professional such as a counsellor/psychotherapist, there are other things you can try day-to-day to help with dealing with anxiety. A few of these are listed below.
Observing your anxiety. While it may feel like you are anxious all of the time, it actually comes in ebbs and flows. Writing down when you experience anxiety can be helpful, as it forces you to become aware of your emotions, shows you that you do have some control as it isn’t there all of the time, and the physical act of writing it down can help to relieve some anxiety in the moment. You can also track your progress and see when it starts to improve. You can do this by:
- Keeping a daily diary of your anxiety levels (on a scale of 1 to 10) for Morning, Afternoon, and Evening, then a daily average (Morning + Afternoon + Evening ÷ 3).
- Writing a journal each day. This only has to take a few minutes out of your day. Writing about your anxieties is a a good start, but then you could start to add the things you are feeling grateful for – as positive emotions help to counteract negative emotions. (Anxiety can cloud our vision, so suggestions could be around kindness; nourishment; housing; education; pleasure).
- On my Five Minute Calm page I have two of my favourite breathing and grounding exercises (7/11 breathing, and 5 Things I Can See/Hear/Feel) that you could try.
- Box breathing. Draw a square on your chest as you are doing this, timing finishing each side of the square with each stage: Breathe in for 4 >>> Hold for 4 >>> Breathe out for 4 >>> Hold for 4. Repeat as necessary.
Challenging your thoughts. This is where you can ask yourself: “Is This Fear or Fact?”
- When you are feeling anxious, identify a specific ‘prediction’ – such as “If I’m late, I’ll be sacked and never be able to get another job”.
- Note down how anxious you feel about this prediction on a scale of 1-10
- Identify the facts that support the prediction being true (has this happened to you or anyone you know before? Is it in your contract?)
- Identify the facts that don’t fit with the prediction being true (are you likely to be late? Have you been able to find a job before? Is it likely you’ll be sacked for being late just once?)
- Identify the likelihood of the disaster actually occurring (are you on an early or a late bus? Have you ever been late before? Have you ever been in trouble at work before?)
- How awful would it be (really)? (do you really think you would be sacked for being late just once? Is it the worst thing in the world that could possibly happen to you? Wouldn’t you be happier in another job that doesn’t sack you for being late for the first time ever?)
- How would you cope (really)? (you have a 100% success rate of managing to get through stressful situations as you’re still here now – so how did you cope before? How can you apply those coping mechanisms to this situation?)
- Make an alternative, balanced, prediction (“I am highly unlikely to be late as I am on an early bus. Even if I were late, I have never been late before, and I have never heard of anyone being sacked for being late just once! Even if I did have to find a new job, I have found one before and could again.”)
These are just a few ways that GAD can be addressed, but there are many others. If you are struggling to cope and need further help, please get in contact with your GP or a suitably qualified counsellor/psychotherapist. It may feel like your anxiety is going to last forever, but it doesn’t have to take over your life – you deserve to be happy.
If you feel you are struggling with anxiety and would like to book an appointment with me, please visit the Book an Appointment page.