People diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety (GAD) are characterized as being obsessively worried, restless, irritable, easily fatigued, tense, and as having difficulty concentrating and getting a good night’s sleep. Before this diagnostic category was created therapists called such people uptight, stressed, or people suffering from nervous tension. GAD underlies most of the other anxiety disorder conditions, many of which started with the symptoms mentioned, and increased in severity. It is believed that in these stressful times a significant proportion of the population experiences generalized anxiety.
Some people worry because they are confronted with difficult situations, losing a job, struggling with an illness. However, other people worry when their lives seem okay. No matter how much of a worrywart one is, there are strategies that can help curb this tendency.
The first is to see worry as a signal. This can be your mind’s way of letting you know there are areas of your life that need attention. For example, right now many people are worried a natural disaster will occur in their community. The worry is a nagging part of your brain reminding you that you are unprepared. In this example, taking action would relieve some of the worry and fear. Or perhaps you are constantly worrying about one of your children because they are not doing well in school. Making an appointment with your child’s teacher may be a first step toward figuring out what is going on and how you can help your child.
An exercise often suggested for people who worry is to create worry time. Write down all the things that worry you, read the list, and worry during a set aside time every day. Usually 10-20 minutes is sufficient. Throughout the day, when worry creeps into your mind, remind yourself that you will ponder on this when your worry time comes. This is an effective behavioral strategy that sees worrying as a habit that can be modified. Commitment to the process is required.
Another technique often suggested to anyone who gets anxious is breathing. When you catch yourself worrying about something, stop and take deep breaths. Do this for 2-3 minutes. This also breaks the habit, replacing it with calming breaths. Meditation, a helpful way to learn to stop the needless chatter that goes on in our brains, replaces worry with a focus on the breath, a calming word, or an image.
When behavioral techniques are not effective it is time to look more deeply into the roots of the worry. Sometimes obsessive worrying is a way to keep one’s mind distracted from more upsetting and emotional issues. For example, one woman I know was constantly worried about how she looked and what her friends thought of her even though there weren’t any real life problems with her friendships or her appearance. However, these worries were a defense against feeling the anger she had at her husband’s alcoholism. This was a problem in their marriage that she felt helpless to do anything about. Since she felt helpless to doing anything about his drinking, she focused her distress elsewhere.
While we all worry at times, it is a good idea not to let it take over our minds to the extent that our bodies feel the effects of constant worry and fearful thoughts. I hope I have given you some strategies you can put into use right away. Remember the words of Mark Twain: “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
© Copyright 2010 by By Evelyn Goodman, Psy.D, LMFT, therapist in Culver City, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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