Worried All the Time About Everything: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Some people just seem to be wired for anxiety.
The official diagnosis is "generalized anxiety disorder" but rather than focus on this label, I'd rather consider the ways it is experienced and what can be done. Perhaps when someone asks you what you are worried about, "almost everything" comes to mind. You wake up and worry that you'll run out of toothpaste or spill your coffee and burn yourself. The day progresses and you worry about someone attacking you on the bus or that you might get fired from your job. You think back to a disagreement you had with your boyfriend yesterday and you are pretty sure he's going to dump you when you get home tonight. And on and on.
Even worse, these thoughts aren't one time occurrences - in fact, you can get the same scary thought stuck in your mind looping over and over again (ruminating thoughts). Or you play out vivid dramas in your head of how things will go wrong - you should get an Oscar for some of the stuff your mind can come up with.
Perhaps you don't even have to have thoughts for the anxiety to show up - just an overwhelming experience of dread and fear. You could be watching the sunset on a beach, drinking champagne with your friends, and yet your body is vibrating with unease. You can't even put your finger on it but you have a felt sense that something is going to go terribly wrong.
All of these symptoms point to a general experience of anxiety that can be overwhelming and painful and greatly diminish the quality of your life. You may find yourself avoiding activities that might be anxiety provoking. Or, even if you do participate in an activity, you don't really feel present because you are struggling with what is going on inside. And most problematic, it doesn't go away easily - you can experience this for months and years at a time.
What can you do about general, overwhelming anxiety?
There are lots of tools that can help. Often a combination of things can help you have a different experience of anxiety and also help you manage and relate to symptoms differently.
One place to start is to identify ways to calm and sooth yourself. While this may seem pretty obvious, if your nervous system is constantly on and ready for something bad to happen, it can be hard to coax it into a different state. Relaxation breathing can be really helpful and there are lots of online resources and apps to show you how to use your breath to calm yourself. In addition, you can soothe your nervous system with guided imagery and a technique called progressive muscle relaxation can also be helpful. Ultimately, these tools help you to let your nervous system know that everything is OK and that it can switch off.
Try Some Mindfulness
Sometimes noticing anxiety showing up can trigger even more anxiety - you can become more anxious about being anxious! Changing the way you relate to your experience of anxiety can be very helpful. Mindfulness can help you ease the struggle with anxiety symptoms and create space for a different kind of response. Even the very familiar feeling of anxiety can change and shift as time passes. Being able to stay curious can begin to change the way you relate to your anxious feeling states and the impact these can have on you.
Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
Changing how you relate to the anxious thoughts you have is often helpful. There are a variety of strategies around this. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you learn how to identify and replace the negative and scary thoughts that come up. Mindfulness works here as well - learning to notice anxious thoughts as just thoughts and not buy into them as your reality can also be helpful.
Make Changes to Your Physical Health
Finally, addressing your physical health can help. Getting adequate sleep, incorporating or increasing exercise, modifying your diet and moderating your caffeine intake can all help ease anxiety in the long term. While it may not seem that these things are directly related, self-care around your physical health can often lead to reduced anxiety levels.
If you're experiencing a general, overwhelming anxiety in your life, perhaps give some of the above approaches a try. It can be helpful to have more than one tool at your disposal, and of course, working with a therapist can help facilitate changes to improve your quality of life and your relationship to anxiety.