Life in a Pressure Cooker: Generalized Anxiety Disorder and 4 Simple Ways to Cope
Anxiety is your body’s natural threat response system. When your brain believes you are in danger, it sends out a series of signals to your body, resulting in the fight-or-flight response. For our ancestors, anxiety was extremely helpful during true life or death situations. Since none of us are (hopefully) being chased down by a bear, anxiety has become more of a nuisance than a helpful push to safety. For others, anxiety can be down right debilitating. The type of anxiety that is felt occasionally is a normal part of life. Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships. Living with prevalent anxiety can feel like you’re trapped in a pressure cooker with no way out. Thankfully, GAD is not a life sentence. With a little work and some help from medical professionals, you can develop a treatment plan to manage your GAD once and for all.
The Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) usually involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread, which can interfere with daily life. It is not the same as occasionally worrying about things or experiencing anxiety due to stressful life events. People living with GAD experience frequent anxiety for months, if not years. Despite the deep level of discomfort GAD brings, it is a highly common, largely untreated mental health issue in America. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the United States every year, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment. Symptoms of GAD include:
Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
Being easily fatigued
Having difficulty concentrating
Having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
GAD can develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. Sometimes the most effective course of action is to work with a doctor, or a psychiatrist, to find the right anxiety medications for your symptoms. However, GAD is not always due to a genetic, chemical imbalance. It can be based on other lifestyle factors that affect our physical body. These factors include:
Gut bacteria imbalances
Lack of movement
Lack of self-awareness
Dysregulated sleep pattern
Vitamin deficiencies, and
Surprisingly, our mind-body connection has quite a bit to do with anxiety. Any internal problem that our body is experiencing, such as a dysregulated sleep pattern, could exacerbate GAD symptoms. This recognition and acceptance of the mind-body connection and how it relates to anxiety can help sufferers of GAD see their anxiety in a new light. Your anxiety isn’t trying to ruin your life, it’s trying to tell you there is a problem. To ease your symptoms, you must find ways to listen, or cope, with your anxiety.
Coping Strategies for GAD
Learning that your mind and body are dynamically intertwined can be a helpful revelation if you’re struggling with GAD or GAD symptoms, however this revelation is hardly enough to help you cope. Here are four simple coping strategies for GAD that you can implement immediately:
Stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day: The rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes, insulin release, and subsequent blood sugar crash that occurs when you eat or drink refined carbs on a regular basis throughout the day greatly impacts your body. If it’s difficult to change your diet, start by adding in more healthy fats when you do consume refined carbs. The healthy fats will keep your blood sugar levels from crashing out. A good example: snack on a pack of almonds with your Starbucks latte.
Try to eat a balanced diet as much as possible: What does balanced mean? You eat 3 decently sized meals that cover the main food groups (fruits/vegetables, protein, and healthy carbs) and at least 1-2 snacks that keep hunger at bay daily.
Find a way to release energy: Living with GAD is like living in a pressure cooker that never opens. You have to find a healthy way to release that pent up energy. Exercise is great, but so is dancing, singing, crying, journaling, doodling, or literally anything that brings your body some peace.
Practice deep breathing: Breathing like you’re calm, even if you’re not, allows your body to tell your brain to chill. Your brain will then start to release feel-good hormones to further help you relax. An effective deep breathing exercise is to breathe in as deep as you can and then hold your breath for 5 counts; release your breath completely and hold for 5 counts. Repeat as many times as you need to feel better.
Just like there are numerous causes of GAD, there are also numerous solutions, and it will be up to you and your chosen health/wellness care professional(s) to decide what is the best course of treatment for you and your GAD.
Not everyone who experiences anxiety will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, like GAD. A certain amount of anxiety is inevitable and can even be helpful when we need a push to get something done. However, if you’re facing anxiety on a frequent basis, then it’s time to discover the best route for relief. No one deserves to live like they’re in a pressure cooker all the time. To help you get started click here and take this free Anxiety Quiz. You can discuss your answers with your doctor, or licensed therapy professional. For more information about GAD and other anxiety disorders, please visit: www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders.