Understanding Anxiety Disorder (GAD) & 10 Ways to Cope

Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It can be a natural response to stress or uncertainty, and it can even be helpful in certain situations when we need an indicator of risk or danger.

However, when anxiety becomes excessive and persistent, it can interfere with your daily life and well-being. This is known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition characterized by excessive anxiety over certain events and situations. People with GAD may find it difficult to control their worry and may experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping.

GAD can interfere with daily life and may lead to problems such as difficulty completing tasks, difficulty with relationships, and problems at work or school.

It is estimated that GAD affects about 3% of the U.S. population. Severity varies, but most people can learn to cope naturally without medication, which is what I have done for the past 30 years.

Understanding Anxiety

Coping with anxiety is very difficult because it feels out of your control. You feel frustrated because of a lack of understanding from loved ones, friends and wider society

Through my own experience, I can say that I don’t want to feel anxiety. In fact, it truly annoys me, and at times there is seemingly no reason for it.

It is true that some people are predisposed to anxiety, but there are triggers that cause it to manifest and take a hold on your life.

My anxiety is a result of childhood trauma, but my personality type helped to create the storm and result in GAD. For most people, something, or a sequence of things, in earlier life form the trigger, but the anxiety may not fully bloom until many years later.

Finding out what that trigger(s) was is a great help in managing anxiety in he short term and overcoming it in the long term.

My anxiety tends to manifest itself in over-thinking, which can cause unnecessary worry and problems sleeping. This is particularly the case before big occasions and life events. Sometimes, though, the feeling of anxiety is just there, in my chest, hanging around and making me feel uncomfortable and unable to relax.

Naturally, we want to avoid anxiety, so we end up avoiding situations where it might occur, such as turning down invitations to social events, avoiding travel and staying away from home, and taking on new challenges such as a new job or meeting new people.

This avoidance is wholly negative because it stops us truly living. We stay in a shell and fall short of our potential. We also deny ourselves access to fun and happiness. And it’s for this reason that we must speak openly about anxiety and find a solution to manage its impact on our lives.

At Risk Groups

Anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. However, some people may be more prone to anxiety due to a variety of factors such as genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life experiences.

Some specific groups that may be at higher risk for anxiety include:

  • People with a family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions: There is some evidence that anxiety can run in families, suggesting a potential genetic component. In my case, my mother is a very anxious person. Being around this in childhood may have predisposed me further.
  • People who have experienced trauma or other stressful life events: Exposure to traumatic or stressful events, such as abuse, neglect, accidents, or natural disasters, can increase the risk of developing anxiety. In my case, a traumatic family breakup and subsequent life events became key triggers.
  • People who are highly perfectionistic or have high standards for themselves: Perfectionism and high standards can lead to excessive worry and fear of failure. I am a very organized person that seeks perfection but often falls short. This is a recipe for anxiety.
  • People who abuse alcohol or drugs: Substance abuse can worsen anxiety symptoms and may even contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. I used cannabis for many years to help with my anxiety and sleep problems. This ultimately made my anxiety worse and I strongly advise against self-medicating with recreational drugs.

It is important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop anxiety. However, it may increase their likelihood of experiencing anxiety at some point in their life.

How to Relieve Anxiety, Naturally

I am a huge proponent of natural methods for managing anxiety. Drugs, recreation or prescription, are a temporary measure that does not get to the root of the problem. Communication through therapy, whether that is counseling, mindfulness, CBT or other, is far more effective in the long term.

If you are struggling with anxiety, here are several things you can try to alleviate your symptoms and improve your overall sense of well-being.

1. Exercise Daily

Obvious, yes, but are you doing it?

Exercise really helps me manage my anxiety, running in particular. Some days I literally run off my anxiety! Physical activity releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Sure, it’s hard work – even I don’t like running much – but that feeling you get afterwards is well worth it. You feel at ease, focussed, mindful.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day, such as brisk walking or cycling or running.

If you are new to exercise, start slowly and gradually build up your endurance and intensity. Just start by walking, and then run a bit, then walk a bit.

More on getting started here.

2. Talk About Your Feelings

Anxiety feels like a personal prison at times. No one can see or feel your suffering. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Don’t be ashamed to let close family and friends know when you’re going through a bad patch. It’s okay not to be okay. You don’t have to suffer in silence. A problem shared is a problem halved.

I know it’s easy to say, and believe me I’m someone who has bottled up so much for so long, and feel that no one really gets me (read this post next). But when you finally pluck up the courage to say “Actually, I’ve been battling with my anxiety this week”, a weight is lifted and the grey cloud starts to shift.

Sharing your feelings with someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or mental health professional, can be a helpful way to cope with anxiety. It can be comforting to know that you are not alone and that others understand what you are going through.

3. Write Down Your Worries & Form Solutions

Sometimes anxiety can be fueled by worries about the future or unresolved issues from the past. One way to cope with these worries is to write them down and come up with potential solutions or action steps.

Don’t worry, though. If you don’t have a solution, that’s fine. Just write down how you feel. This can help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed.

Journaling is a great way to document how you feel, especially at bedtime, as a way to put the day to rest.

Read this guide I wrote on journaling.

Writing enables you to literally empty your mind by documenting your thoughts in a tangible form. It’s highly therapeutic, and best of all, free!

4. Reduce Caffeine Intake

If you don’t sleep well then you probably compensate with coffee. But it’s a vicious circle where anxiety is concerned. Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase anxiety, especially in high doses. It also messes with your sleep, big time.

I love coffee but all stimulants raise my anxiety level, so I cut it out altogether. To reduce your caffeine intake, limit your consumption of coffee, tea and energy drinks, and choose decaffeinated alternatives when possible.

5. Get Enough Sleep

Easier said than done, I know. But we all know that adequate sleep is essential for good mental health and can help reduce anxiety.

It’s tough being a poor sleeper, but the good news is that everyone’s sleep can be improved.

Avoid eating too close to bedtime, and don’t eat or drink stimulants in the evening. Also avoid screens (e.g., phones, laptops, TVs) for at least an hour before bed, as the blue light they emit can interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, and establish a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

6. Eat a Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet

Talking of stimulants and sleep, diet is a major factor in managing anxiety. A healthy diet can support overall well-being and will help reduce anxiety, especially when you reduced processed and sugary food intake.

Some foods, even healthy ones, may just make you feel a little more anxious than usual, so listen to your body. Do make sure you’re eating adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

7. Reduce Exposure to Negative People

Those who suffer from anxiety are often sensitive people who are overly sensitive to the energy of others. This can be problematic if you have negative influences in your life.

I have personally found that the energy of others can positively or negatively influence my anxiety, depending on their behavior.

Often it’s unavoidable, particularly if you have a parent or sibling that brings a lot of negative energy to your home environment. Regardless, do your best to surround yourself with positive people and immerse yourself in calm, balanced energy.

8. Practice Deep Breathing & Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Deep breathing is an effective way to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Deep breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Check out the Wim Hoff Method. I use it. It works.

You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head. This may help you relax in bed and fall to sleep, too.

You can also try meditation. See here for help.

9. Take Time to Relax and Unwind

Keeping busy and having my attention focussed on work, a hobby, or my kids helps me channel my energy positively. However, there is a tipping point where doing too much and not coming up for air causes anxiety to rise.

It’s important to set aside time for relaxation and self-care to give your mind a rest and bring it home, so to speak. This might include activities such as reading, journaling, listening to music, taking a warm bath or practicing yoga.

Find activities that you enjoy and that help you feel calm and centered.

10. Use Essential Oils

I’m a big believer in the power of plants, in both diet and environment, and scents can have a powerful impact on how we feel.

Certain essential oils, such as lavender and chamomile, have been shown to have a calming effect and may help reduce anxiety. I also really like the scent of jasmine. Try diffusing oils, or use a spray, in your home and office, or applying them topically to your skin (diluted with a carrier oil).

Have you got any tips for managing anxiety? Or perhaps need some help? Leave your comments below.

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