Five Steps To Manage Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Achea Redd, Mental Health Advocate
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s more integral than ever that we all understand that it’s OK to not be OKbecause the stigma is more dangerous than ever. Being locked down in our homes for this extended period of time has only exacerbated the problem.
Achea Redd, wife of former NBA star and Olympian, Michael Redd, who played alongside Kobe Bryant, suffered from eating disorders throughout her teens and was diagnosed with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2016. Ashamed of her condition, Achea hid it, which exacerbated her issues to the point of a full-blown breakdown.
With the help of her therapist, doctors and loved ones, Achea recovered and thrivedbut suffered setbacks yet again after undergoing a full hysterectomy in 2019, which sent her hormones awry and triggered her. Thankfully, Achea is thriving now and seeks to help end the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, especially as a woman of color.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Achea about her personal story and message for others. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: Can you tell me about your breakdown and walk us through the steps you took to your recovery?
Anxiety Disorder And No Risk Living
While GAD is distinct from OCD , the two disorders share a fundamental component: a demand for No Risk Living. In seeking out No Risk Living individuals experiencing anxiety attempt to avoid or minimize the uncertainties of everyday life. The preoccupation with uncertainty may produce multiple and various worries, which may change over time. These worries occurs daily and can include essentially anything, butwhile we are all concerned to one degree or another about the details of our livesthe difference with GAD is difficulty in letting go of the demand to achieve no risk.
While certain worries may appear reasonable because they center on everyday stressors such as work tasks, friends, health, children, success, etc., people suffering from anxiety disorders may struggle with the desire for total control. Because they do not demand No Risk Living, individuals without GAD are able to forego or move past non-productive worry. They might say, Boy, wouldnt it be nice to know that we have perfect control of knowing that our fears will never happen. But, if I have to be honest, there is a risk in living even though we do not like or want it.
Who Is At Risk For Anxiety Disorders
A mix of genetic and environmental factors can raise a persons risk for developing anxiety disorders. You may be at higher risk if you have or had:
- Certain personality traits, such as shyness or behavioral inhibition feeling uncomfortable with, and avoiding, unfamiliar people, situations or environments.
- Stressful or traumatic events in early childhood or adulthood.
- Family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions.
- Certain physical conditions, including thyroid problems and heart arrhythmias .
Anxiety disorders occur more often in women. Researchers are still studying why that happens. It may come from womens hormones, especially those that fluctuate throughout the month. The hormone testosterone may play a role, too men have more, and it may ease anxiety. Its also possible that women are less likely to seek treatment, so the anxiety worsens.
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And Fearing Your Thoughts
Other times, you’d stop thinking about the idea of getting fired, and focus instead on how all this worry might affect you. You would worry that the worry will lead to a stroke, or a nervous breakdown. You’d be worrying about worry.
There are other symptoms of GAD – aches and pains, restlessness, sleep disturbances – but all these other symptoms seem to be caused by the excessive worrying.
Whats The Difference Between Typical Worrying And Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Everyone experiences occasional bouts of anxiety anxiety can even be healthy because it has the power to focus attention or motivate people to take action. Anxiety becomes a disorder, however, when worry becomes excessive and disrupts the ability to function daily. For example, if anxiety consistently prevents someone from concentrating and being able to complete their tasks at work, that may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
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How To Help Someone With Anxiety
All of us worry and get scared from time to time. But those with anxiety may feel consumed by fears of things that might seem irrational to others. It can be hard to relate to these concerns, and as a result, many people dont know how to best help someone with anxiety. People are often dismissive of people experiencing anxiety, says Joseph McGuire, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine. With other medical illnesses, you may be able to see physical symptoms. But with anxiety, you dont necessarily see what the person is dealing with. So its important to be sensitive to what the person with anxiety is going through, even if it doesnt make sense to you. Its distressing to watch a loved one experience panic attacks and face anxiety every day, but there are things you can do to help. It starts with recognizing the signs of excessive worry and understanding the best ways to support your loved one.
Learn To Recognize The Signs Of Anxiety
Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting up to 18% of the population. Knowing the signs of anxiety can help you realize when someone you love is having fearful thoughts or feelings. Symptoms vary from person to person but can be broken into three categories:
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What Are The Causes And Risk Factors For Gad
Experts donât know the exact causes of generalized anxiety disorder. Several things — including genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental stresses — appear to contribute to its development.
- Genetics. Some research suggests that family history plays a part in making it more likely that a person will have GAD. This means that the tendency to develop GAD may be passed on in families. But no anxiety genes have been identified, and families may also pass down the tendency through lifestyle or environment.
- Brain chemistry. This is complex. GAD has been linked to problems with certain nerve cell pathways that connect particular brain regions involved in thinking and emotion. These nerve cell connections depend on chemicals called neurotransmitters that send information from one nerve cell to the next. If the pathways that connect particular brain regions donât work well, problems related to mood or anxiety may result. Medicines, psychotherapies, or other treatments that are thought to work on these neurotransmitters may improve the signaling between circuits and help to improve symptoms related to anxiety or depression.
- Environmental factors. Trauma and stressful events such as abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, and changing jobs or schools may contribute to GAD. The condition can also worsen when stress feels out of hand. The use of and withdrawal from addictive substances can also worsen anxiety.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Everyone gets anxious sometimes, but if your worries and fears are so constant that they interfere with your ability to function and relax, you may have generalized anxiety disorder . GAD is a common anxiety disorder that involves constant and chronic worrying, nervousness, and tension. Unlike a phobia, where your fear is connected to a specific thing or situation, the anxiety of GAD is diffuseda general feeling of dread or unease that colors your whole life. This anxiety is less intense than a panic attack, but much longer lasting, making normal life difficult and relaxation impossible. Generalized anxiety disorder is mentally and physically exhausting. It drains your energy, interferes with sleep, and wears your body out.
If you have GAD you may worry about the same things that other people do, but you take these worries to a new level. A co-workers careless comment about the economy becomes a vision of an imminent pink slip a phone call to a friend that isnt immediately returned becomes anxiety that the relationship is in trouble. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. You go about your activities filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke them.
- I cant get my mind to stop its driving me crazy!
- Hes latehe was supposed to be here 20 minutes ago! Oh my God, he must have been in an accident!
- I cant sleepI just feel such dread and I dont know why!
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How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated
An anxiety disorder is like any other health problem that requires treatment. You cant will it away. Its not a matter of self-discipline or attitude. Researchers have made a lot of progress in the last few decades in treating mental health conditions. Your healthcare provider will tailor a treatment plan that works for you. Your plan may combine medication and psychotherapy.
Using Relaxation Techniques To Treat Gad
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Potential Natural Treatments For Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Therapy is useful for helping to train your brain to better control your thoughts and emotions, which then can affect how you behave and react to situations that cause anxiety. CBT has been found to be especially beneficial for people with GAD, including children and teens.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is regarded as the psychotherapy with the highest level of evidence for anxiety disorders for several reasons. It works by restructuring thought patterns and through exposure to things/situations that cause anxiety. By gradually exposing someone to their fears, they can come to learn that the outcome is not as bad as they may have expected. CBT can also help someone learn effective strategies for coping with fear and ways to communicate better with others or to ask for help, which has been shown to improve quality in life in those with anxiety.
2. Relaxation Practices
Relaxation therapies/practices are considered natural arousal decreasing techniques, meaning they can help to manage emotional both symptoms of fear and physical arousal. This can include physical feelings like a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, etc. or emotions like overwhelm, racing thoughts, etc. Mind-body practices are also associated with a decrease in stress hormones , improved sleep quality and a boost in productivity.
3. A Healthy Lifestyle
Here are some tips related to diet and lifestyle habits that can help to manage anxiety:
4. Natural Supplements
Find The Missing Needs
While I dont doubt that some people naturally experience fear more readily than others, I think its important not to pass off a clients GAD as some sort of genetically predetermined disease.
Instead, we should interpret GAD as a signal that one or more, or perhaps even many, of the clients primal emotional needs remain unmet. Or that some past emotional conditioning is still active. It might even be a combination of both.
Of course, having GAD can in turn prevent the completion of needs, just as being weakened by the desperate need to eat can prevent us searching for food.
Just to recap, our primal emotional needs consist of:
- The need to give and receive attention
- The need to heed the mind/body connection
- The need for purpose, goals, and meaning
- The need to be part of a community and make a contribution
- The need for challenge and creativity to be stretched, not stressed
- The need for intimacy
- The need for a sense of control and autonomy
- The need for status
- The need to feel safe and secure .
Missing needs create a signal in the form of a symptom. For example, missing the need for physical hydration creates the symptom of thirst.
But we also need to look at how and why GAD may have developed not just to provide our clients with insight, but to actually help decondition any harmful learnings from the past.
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Who Does It Affect
Generalized anxiety disorder affects between 5% and 6% of people at some point in their life. GAD often starts sometime between late childhood and early adulthood, though it’s not uncommon for it to begin much later in life. Children may also be diagnosed with GAD. In children, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder can look like GAD, so a mental health professional will carefully look at where the child’s worry is coming from before they make a diagnosis.
There are some groups of people at higher risk of getting the disorder:
WomenWomen are almost twice as likely as men to develop GAD.
Older adultsIts not uncommon for people to develop GAD later in life.
People with another mental illnesses or substance use disorderPeople living with GAD often have another mental illness. Mood illnesses like depression, other anxiety disorders and substance use disorders commonly occur with GAD. People who start to experience GAD when theyre younger may be more likely to be diagnosed with more than one mental illness.
Family membersGAD seems to run in families, so you have a higher risk of developing the illness if a close family member also has GAD.