Generalized anxiety disorder tip 1: Connect with others
Support from other people is vital to overcoming GAD. Social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety, so itâs important to find someone you can connect with face to face on a regular basis. This person should be someone you can talk to for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen to you without judging, criticizing, or continually being distracted by the phone or other people. That person may be your significant other, a family member, or a friend.
How GAD can get in the way of connecting with others
While the more connected you are to other people, the less vulnerable youâll feel, but the catch-22 is that having GAD can lead to problems in your relationships. For example, anxiety and constant worrying about your close relationships may leave you feeling needy and insecure.
Identify unhealthy relationship patterns. Think about the ways you tend to act when youâre feeling anxious about a relationship. Do you test your partner? Withdraw? Make accusations? Become clingy? Once youâre aware of any anxiety-driven relationship patterns, you can look for better ways to deal with any fears or insecurities youâre feeling.
Build a strong support system. Human beings are social creatures. Weâre not meant to live in isolation. But a strong support system doesnât necessarily mean a vast network of friends. Donât underestimate the benefit of a few people you can trust and count on to be there for you.
Talk it out when your worries start spiraling. If you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, meet with a trusted family member or friend. Just talking face to face about your worries can make them seem less threatening.
Know who to avoid when youâre feeling anxious. Your anxious take on life may be something you learned when you were growing up. If your mother is a chronic worrier, she is not the best person to call when youâre feeling anxiousâno matter how close you are. When considering who to turn to, ask yourself whether you tend to feel better or worse after talking to that person about a problem.
Tip 2: Learn to calm down quickly
While socially interacting with another person face-to-face is the quickest way to calm your nervous system, itâs not always realistic to have a friend close by to lean on. In these situations, you can quickly self-soothe and relieve anxiety symptoms by making use of one or more of your physical senses:
Sight â Look at anything that relaxes you or makes you smile: a beautiful view, family photos, cat pictures on the Internet.
Sound â Listen to soothing music, sing a favorite tune, or play a musical instrument. Or enjoy the relaxing sounds of nature (either live or recorded): ocean waves, wind through the trees, birds singing.
Smell â Light scented candles. Smell the flowers in a garden. Breathe in the clean, fresh air. Spritz on your favorite perfume.
Taste â Slowly eat a favorite treat, savoring each bite. Sip a hot cup of coffee or herbal tea. Chew on a stick of gum. Enjoy a mint or your favorite hard candy.
Touch â Give yourself a hand or neck massage. Cuddle with a pet. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Sit outside in the cool breeze.
Movement â Go for a walk, jump up and down, or gently stretch. Dancing, drumming, and running can be especially effective.
Tip 3: Get moving
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension, reduces stress hormones, boosts feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins, and physically changes the brain in ways that make it less anxiety-prone and more resilient.
For maximum relief of GAD, try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days. Exercise that engages both your arms and legsâsuch as walking, running, swimming, or dancingâare particularly good choices.
Add mindfulness to your workout
Mindfulness is a powerful anxiety fighterâand an easy technique to incorporate into your exercise program. Rather than spacing out or focusing on your thoughts during a workout, focus on how your body feels as you move. Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. Not only will you get more out of your workoutâyouâll also interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Tip 4: Look at your worries in new ways
The core symptom of GAD is chronic worrying. Itâs important to understand what worrying is, since the beliefs you hold about worrying play a huge role in triggering and maintaining GAD.
You may feel like your worries come from the outsideâfrom other people, events that stress you out, or difficult situations youâre facing. But, in fact, worrying is self-generated. The trigger comes from the outside, but your internal running dialogue keeps it going.
When youâre worrying, youâre talking to yourself about things youâre afraid of or negative events that might happen. You run over the feared situation in your mind and think about all the ways you might deal with it. In essence, youâre trying to solve problems that havenât happened yet, or worse, simply obsessing on worst-case scenarios.
All this worrying may give you the impression that youâre protecting yourself by preparing for the worst or avoiding bad situations. But more often than not, worrying is unproductiveâsapping your mental and emotional energy without resulting in any concrete problem-solving strategies or actions.
How to distinguish between productive and unproductive worrying? If youâre focusing on âwhat ifâ scenarios, your worrying is unproductive.
Once youâve given up the idea that your worrying somehow helps you, you can start to deal with your worry and anxiety in more productive ways. This may involve challenging irrational worrisome thoughts, learning how to stop worrying, and learning to accept uncertainty in your life.
Tip 5: Regularly practice relaxation techniques for GAD
Anxiety is more than just a feeling. Itâs the bodyâs physical âfight or flightâ reaction to a perceived threat. Your heart pounds, you breathe faster, your muscles tense up, and you feel light-headed. When youâre relaxed, the complete opposite happens. Your heart rate slows down, you breathe slower and more deeply, your muscles relax, and your blood pressure stabilizes. Since itâs impossible to be anxious and relaxed at the same time, strengthening your bodyâs relaxation response is a powerful anxiety-relieving tactic.
Relaxation techniques for GAD
Deep breathing. When youâre anxious, you breathe faster. This hyperventilation causes symptoms such as dizziness, breathlessness, lightheadedness, and tingly hands and feet. These physical symptoms are frightening, leading to further anxiety and panic. But by breathing deeply from the diaphragm, you can reverse these symptoms and calm yourself down.
Progressive muscle relaxation can help you release muscle tension and take a âtime outâ from your worries. The technique involves systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in your body. As your body relaxes, your mind will follow.
Meditation. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can actually change your brain. With regular practice, meditation boosts activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of serenity and joy. Try the Ride the Wild Horse meditation, part of HelpGuideâs free EQ toolkit.
Tip 6: Adopt additional anxiety-busting habits
A healthy, balanced lifestyle plays a big role in keeping the symptoms of GAD at bay. In addition to regular exercise and relaxation, try adopting these other lifestyle habits to tackle chronic anxiety and worry:
Get enough sleep
Anxiety and worry can cause insomnia, as anyone whose racing thoughts have kept them up at night can attest. But lack of sleep can also contribute to anxiety. When youâre sleep deprived, your ability to handle stress is compromised. When youâre well rested, itâs much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety and stopping worry. Improve your sleep at night by changing any daytime habits or bedtime routines that can contribute to sleeplessness.
Stop drinking or at least cut back on caffeinated beverages, including soda, coffee, and tea. Caffeine is a stimulant that can trigger all kinds of jittery physiological effects that look and feel a lot like anxietyâfrom pounding heart and trembling hands to agitation and restlessness. Caffeine can also make GAD symptoms worse, cause insomnia, and even trigger panic attacks.
Avoid alcohol and nicotine
Having a few drinks may temporarily help you feel less anxious, but alcohol actually makes anxiety symptoms worse as it wears off. While it may seem like cigarettes are calming, nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant that leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
Food doesnât cause anxiety, but a healthy diet can help keep you on an even keel. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugarâwhich can make you feel anxious and irritableâso start the day right with breakfast and continue with regular meals. Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), which stabilize blood sugar and boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter with calming effects. Reduce the amount of refined sugar you eat, too. Sugary snacks and desserts cause blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling emotionally and physically drained.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If youâve given self-help a fair shot, but still canât seem to shake your worries and fears, it may be time to see a mental health professional. But remember that professional treatment doesnât replace self-help. In order to control your GAD symptoms, youâll still want to make lifestyle changes and look at the ways you think about worrying
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy that is particularly helpful in the treatment of GAD. CBT examines distortions in our ways of looking at the world and ourselves. Your therapist will help you identify automatic negative thoughts that contribute to your anxiety. For example, if you catastrophizeâalways imagining the worst possible outcome in any given situationâyou might challenge this tendency through questions such as, âWhat is the likelihood that this worst-case scenario will actually come true?â and âWhat are some positive outcomes that are more likely to happen?â.