A Guide to Generalized Anxiety Disorder: How to Deal with Anxiety and Worry

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Feeling anxious, tense, and worried all day long?

  • How to deal with worry and anxiety?
  • How to stop worrying?
  • How to stop worrying about things you can’t control?

While most people worry now and again if your worries are excessive, uncontrollable and long-term, you may be suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

GAD is not the only anxiety disorder – there is also social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – but GAD is the most common and it’s characterized by chronic worrying!

I suffered from anxiety for many years and in my 20s it became chronic, at which point I went to see a doctor and I was diagnosed with GAD.

Worrying about everything and anything in my life was a daily struggle that I found very difficult to control.

Over time I tried and tested lots of different anxiety coping strategies, and in this article, I share all the ones that worked for me, which I am hoping will help you too.


Short-term worries and anxiety are natural reactions to uncomfortable, difficult, or stressful situations.

For example, you may feel worried and anxious about taking an exam, or getting your medical test results or going for a job interview, and this is perfectly normal if your worries tend to pass.

But if your worries are excessive, persistent, affect your life, and have been going on for a while, then you may be suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder display chronic worrying or anxiety, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as work, social interactions, health, and everyday life tasks.

GAD is more common than other anxiety disorders because more people struggle with anxiety in various situations (GAD) rather than in one specific situation (i.e. Social anxiety disorder etc.).

When I was diagnosed with GAD, I had been suffering from anxiety for many years.

Although I was more anxious and worried in social situations, my anxiety was wide-ranging – at home, with my family and friends, at work, while cooking, when calling anyone, on public transport, and so on – and that’s why I was diagnosed with GAD rather than Social Anxiety Disorder.

Characteristics of Chronic Worrying


The main characteristics of chronic worrying include:

Excessive – Chronic worriers worry about all sorts of things and to a great extent, often fearing worst-case scenarios

Persistent – chronic worrying is constant and persistent, having a sense that worries are on endless repeat

Irrational – worries don’t have to be rational, chronic worriers worry about both irrational and rational situations.

Difficult to control – chronic worrying can feel like it’s almost impossible to control

Interfere with your daily life – Chronic worrying usually affects your ability to function in life and complete daily tasks. It can significantly disrupt your work, relationships, social life, driving, and so on.

Long-term – Chronic worrying usually occurs nearly every day for a longer period of time.

Other Anxiety Disorders

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – an anxiety disorder that is characterized by recurring and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). For example, constantly washing hands, cleaning, or counting.
  • Panic Disorder – an anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear along with various physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing a terrifying event.
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder) – an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety in daily social situations.

What are Signs and Symptoms of GAD?


We are all unique and not all people suffering from GAD have the same symptoms. But, when clinical professionals are assessing for GAD in adults, they’re looking for the following:

Excessive and uncontrollable worries and anxiety about various topics, events, or activities, occurring more often than not for at least 6 months.

Plus at least three of the following physical or mental symptoms:

  • Nervousness, restlessness, or feeling on edge
  • Feeling tired easily or more than usual
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Problems sleeping – falling asleep or staying asleep
  • What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

    There are many possible causes of general anxiety disorder, though this is not fully understood.

    Possible causes include:

    • Life Experiences such as traumatic events
    • Medical Conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disorders, diabetes, thyroid problems, and cancer
    • Addictions – drug and alcohol abuse
    • Chronic pain
    • Lifestyle Choices - unhealthy eating, lack of exercise 

    But irrespective of the cause, people struggling with GAD tend to perceive the ordinary world as threatening, which results in excessive and uncontrollable worrying!

    GAD can be managed and there are quick solutions as well as long-term anxiety coping strategies to help you reduce and manage anxiety, both of which are addressed below.

    GAD Self-Help: How to Deal With Worry and Anxiety? 

    We need to have both quick and long-term anxiety management techniques.  While it’s important to find ways to manage anxiety for good, quick anxiety coping strategies can help you take back control when your worries and anxiety suddenly go up.

    - 8 Quick Anxiety Coping Strategies

    1. Deep Breathing

    When you’re worried and anxious your breathing becomes faster and shallower.

    Practicing deep breathing can help you slow down your heart, intake more oxygen, and stimulate the production of endorphins (“feel good” chemical), all of which work to relieve anxiety and make you calmer.

    Instructions

    Breathe in slowly through your nose into your abdomen and allow your abdomen to expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth, or your nose, whatever feels more natural. Repeat this 15-20 times or until you calm down.

    There are also many breathing techniques that you can use to relax.

    I often practice the following technique:


    • Breath in for 7 counts
    • Hold your breath for 7 counts
    • Breath out for 7 counts
    • Hold for 7 counts (before breathing in again)
    • This is one round.
    • Repeat 7 times

    Instead of 7 counts/rounds, you can also practice 3, 4, 5, or 9 counts/rounds. Try each variation to see what works best for you.

    2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

    Anxiety causes tension which you can release quite quickly using progressive muscle relaxation exercises.

    Instructions
    • Aim to work on the following 7 muscle groups: 1) forehead, 2) jaw, 3) neck and shoulders, 4) arms and hands, 5) buttocks, 6) legs, and 7) feet.
    • Find a quiet place.
    • Lie down and close your eyes.
    • Take a few deep breaths.
    • Breathe in slowly, then tense the first muscle group for 10 seconds.
    • Breathe out, and suddenly relax the muscle group. Do not relax slowly or gradually. It needs to be sudden to help you let go of the tension.
    • Relax for 10 – 20 seconds and then start on the next muscle group.
    • When you’re finished, take a few deep breaths to help you return back to the present.

    3. Go for a Walk

    Walking is my favorite quick and long-term anxiety coping strategy. Even a walk as short as thirty minutes can help to slow down your heart rate and relieve anxiety.

    Walking also triggers the release of feel-good endorphins, that boost mood and pleasure as well as relieve pain, resulting in a feeling of well-being.

    4. Play Relaxing Music

    Gentle instrumental music helps to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones and is great for relieving anxiety.

    Nature sounds are also calming and you’ll find these often in relaxation and meditation music. So, whenever you’re anxious put on your headphones and listen to relaxing music.

    5. Drink a Cup of Chamomile Tea

    Chamomile tea is one of the best anti-anxiety drinks. It can calm you down, relieve anxiety, induce sleep, relax muscle tension, and reduce irritability.

    6. Burn Essential Oils

    Inhaling the scent of essential oils can provide very quick anxiety relief. Essential oils help to stimulate the smell receptors in your nose, which send messages to your nervous system helping you calm down. The following essential oils are great for anxiety relief:

    Lavender, Rose, Vetiver, Bergamot, Roman chamomile, Neroli, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Ylang-ylang, Orange or orange blossom, Geranium

    7. Do 15-Minutes of Yoga

    Yoga can help you relieve tension, boost energy and mood, increase circulation, regulate heart rate, and reduce cortisol. Practice 15-30 minutes of yoga to relieve anxiety.

    8. Release Your Worries 

    Journaling is a highly effective technique for managing anxiety. Writing down your worries in a journal can help you release them, make sense of them, as well as relieve anxiety.

    – 9 Long-Term Anxiety Management Techniques 

    If you suspect you have GAD, or if you’ve been diagnosed, you’ll also want to adopt long-term anxiety management techniques to reduce and prevent anxiety symptoms including chronic worrying.

    1. Adopt an Anti-Anxiety Diet

    It is my experience that adopting an anti-anxiety diet is essential for reducing and managing anxiety.

    You consume food a few times a day and if you’re eating anxiety trigger foods, it’s going to be difficult to manage your anxiety even if you are practicing other effective anxiety coping strategies.

    You won’t always have to eat an anti-anxiety diet, but it’s necessary to eat the right diet until you get your anxiety under control.

    What is an Anti-Anxiety Diet?


    The anti-anxiety diet that helped me reduce and manage my anxiety is essentially a healthy, balanced, and clean diet with a focus on natural, whole foods. It involves,


    • Consuming lots of vegetables and whole grains
    • as well as fish*, legumes, lean meats*, fruit, nuts, and seeds.

    These foods optimize your intake of essential nutrients required for mental health, stabilize blood sugar, and boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter with calming effects.

    If you are vegan you can simply exclude these foods and replace them with fresh organic tofu, seitan, legumes, and other healthy vegan proteins.

    What Foods are Avoided on the Anti-Anxiety Diet that Helped Me?
    • Foods that are too salty, too spicy, too sweet or too sour
    • Processed foods such as refined carbs, sugary foods, snacks and desserts, and cold meats.

    Why?


    • According to Ayurvedic medicine foods that are too salty, too spicy, too sweet, or too sour can affect your adrenaline levels, and I’ve found that it is best to avoid spices, sour fruits, vinegar, and sugary foods when trying to manage anxiety.
    • Processed foods are usually low in nutrients and often contain additives, preservatives, flavorings, and colorings – both of which can trigger anxiety. I eliminated these foods completely for two years until I got my anxiety under control. Now, I only consume them now and again, which is usually when I am out with friends.

    2. Limit Caffeine

    Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel jittery and this feels a lot like anxiety with symptoms such as increased heartbeat, restlessness, irritability, and trembling hands.

    Caffeine can also worsen your GAD, cause sleep problems, and even trigger panic attacks.

    Studies show that caffeine increases stress-hormones at rest – cortisol and adrenaline – and that levels of these hormones after caffeine consumption are similar to those experienced during acute stress.

    If you’re suffering from GAD, I’d highly recommend that you eliminate caffeine completely, or at least cutback.

    Caffeine is mainly found in coffee, black tea, sodas, and energy drinks.

    Although people’s sensitivity to caffeine can vary in that we have different thresholds for how much caffeine we can tolerate, it is my experience that anxiety and caffeine don’t go together.

    I had a big problem with coffee and anxiety, and when I learned that caffeine can worsen GAD symptoms, I stopped drinking coffee for a few years and have only just recently introduced it back into my life but only when I am out socially.

    3. Avoid Alcohol and Nicotine

    Alcohol can temporarily relieve anxiety, but your anxiety symptoms are likely to be worse as it wears off.

    Similarly, cigarettes give a false sense of calm, but nicotine is another stimulant that can cause your anxiety to rise.

    4. Get Moving

    Exercise is one of the best natural ways of treating and preventing anxiety.

    It helps to relieve tension, lowers cortisol (stress hormone), boosts serotonin and endorphins (feel-good chemicals), and can over time change your brain chemistry to make you more resilient to stress and anxiety.

    What’s the Best Exercise for Anxiety?

    For optimal mental and physical benefits, aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days. Ideally, choose an exercise technique that uses both your arms and leg such as walking, running, swimming and yoga.

    5. Improve Sleep Quality

    Anxiety and worry can keep you awake at night, but not enough sleep can also cause anxiety.

    When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re less able to handle stress and anxiety. In contrast, getting enough sleep keeps your hormones in check, which is necessary for managing anxiety and worry.

    How to Improve Your Sleep Quality?
    • Go to bed by 22:00 as the most regenerative sleep is between 22:00 and 02:00
    • Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night
    • Avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime
    • Remove all electronics from your bedroom when sleeping
    • Turn off all lights and make your bedroom dark – important for production of melatonin (sleep hormone)

    6. Practice Relaxation Techniques

    Although anxiety is a mental condition it has many physical symptoms such as pounding heart, shallow and fast breathing, and tense muscles. Practicing relaxation can help you relive these physical symptoms quite quickly.

    Over time relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, tai chi, and similar can also reduce your anxiety and even help you to overcome your anxiety.

    I have been practicing yoga and meditation for a few years now. Meditation was very difficult at first because I would fidget, move my hair, scratch, and do anything else other than stay still.

    But over time, I have learned to love my meditation practice and now I meditate for at least 10 minutes every morning. As soon as I get out of bed, I walk over to my yoga mat and start my meditation practice.

    Click here to listen to my favorite guided meditation. It’s only 5 minutes long and it’s beautiful!

    7. Keep an Anxiety Journal

    Making notes about your anxiety can help you find out when your symptoms are at their worst or best. This is a great way to identify your anxiety triggers, and what you need to change in your life to reduce and manage anxiety long-term.

    Keep a track daily of the food you eat, how much exercise you’ve done, how long you’ve spent relaxing and the state of your anxiety.

    If you want worksheets to help you do that, then get your FREE Anxiety Workbook by popping your email address below. 

    Get You FREE Anxiety Workbook

    FREE Printable 15-Page Anxiety Workbook including journal prompts, affirmations, worksheets, planners, and more!

    8. Question Your Worries

    The more your worry, the more anxious you’ll be, and the more anxious you are the more you’re likely to worry.

    Managing anxiety through the above short and long- term anxiety coping strategies will help you reduce your worries over time. But to make this process even quicker, tackle your worries directly as well.

    Get into the habit of writing down your worries and challenging them daily to help you move away from imagining worst-case scenarios.

    How to Question Your Worries?
    1. Schedule 30 minutes of worry time daily. Choose the same time every day if possible.
    2. For the first 10 minutes write down as many of your worries as you can.
    3. For the next 20 minutes go through your list of worries and challenge them. For each worry ask yourself questions such as:
    • Is this thing that I am fearing likely to happen?
    • How can I be sure?
    • What evidence do I have?
    • If it does happen how does this affect me?
    • How would someone else view this worry?
    • Is there another possible outcome or explanation?
    • Is this fear solvable?
    • What can I do to solve it at soon as possible?

    9. Aim for More Fresh Air and Sunshine

    Going to nature, getting fresh air and sunshine as often as you can is very effective at relieving anxiety, both quickly and long-term.

    At the peak of my anxiety, I was working long hours in London and living in an area with no parks or nature nearby. I spent most of my days at work and during weekends I was too tired to go anywhere. When I did go out, the likelihood of having sunshine was pretty small as British weather is known for its rain, not sun! It’s no wonder that during this time I was the most anxious and depressed.

    But, when I learned that fresh air, sun, and nature are amazing anxiety coping strategies I made all effort to get out!

    It didn’t take me long to realize that whenever I had a good day for fresh air sunshine and/or nature, my anxiety was at its lowest.

    How to Get More Fresh Air and Sunlight in a Busy Life Schedule?
    • On weekdays go outside during your lunchbreak for 15 minutes.
    • Have your lunch outside on a bench whenever possible. 
    • On sunny days makes sure you spend at least 30-minutes outside in the sun. 
    • During weekend go to parks, and walk wherever you can.
    • Get into the habit of walking part of the way to work. Even if it is only 5 minutes more than you usually would. 
    • Get creative and think of other ways you can spend more time outside within your daily schedule. 

    Summary on Generalized Anxiety Disorder Self-Help

    It is my experience that healthy eating, exercise, quality sleep, fresh, air, sunshine, time in nature, relaxation, journaling are essential for reducing, managing, and overcoming GAD.

    What if GAD Self-Help Doesn’t Work?

    If you’ve given the above strategies a fair go, but still need help on how to deal with worry and anxiety, it may be time to see a mental health professional.

    Though I must stress that seeing a psychologist or a counsellor should not be seen as a replacement for healthy lifestyle changes. Your therapy is going to be far more effective if you adopt healthy habits into your life.

    What can you expect when you see a therapist?

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used in the treatment of GAD. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing your negative thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that are causing or triggering your anxiety.

    It is a time-limited therapy, meaning that you’ll know when your course of sessions will end. Often, the therapy consists of 20 one-to-one sessions, though this can vary depending on your situation.

    If you need help finding a mental health professional you can visit Online-Therapy and they will match you with a therapist at an affordable price.

    Medication for Anxiety

    Anxiety medication for GAD is generally recommended only as a temporary measure to relieve symptoms at the beginning of the treatment process. Consult your doctor with regards to any medication.

    Final Thoughts on How to Deal with Worry and Anxiety?

    When I was first diagnosed with GAD I didn’t know how to deal with mental health naturally. Initially I took anti-anxiety medication after which I started seeing a therapist.

    It was only when I started doing a lot of research about alternative healing that I made changes to my lifestyle and mindset, which helped me to eventually, I overcame chronic anxiety and worry (GAD).

    If I was doing this all over again, I would have done this the other way around, and perhaps I wouldn't have needed to tale any medication. 

    Today, I continue to eat healthily, exercise, spend time in nature, get quality sleep, fresh air, sunshine, relax and think positively, and while I still get anxious now and again in stressful situations, these tend to pass and anxiety no longer controls my life.

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    About the Author

    Sandra Glavan 

    Sandra is an anxiety expert and founder of Super Sensitive Sandi. Her anxiety advice has been featured in Best Life, Human Window, Life Hacker Guy, Morning Lazziness, and Blunt Therapy. Read more

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