Living With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Living with generalized anxiety disorder can be difficult, but it is possible with the right steps. This begins with a professional diagnosis and comprehensive treatment involving behavioral therapy, medications, and other strategies. Outside of therapy, patients with anxiety can learn to live with it by using relaxation techniques, by changing negative thoughts, and by making positive changes to reduce stress. Also important to living with generalized anxiety is being socially engaged and taking time for healthy self-care.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes excessive worry and anxiety over many different things.

The difference between healthy anxiety and anxiety disorder is that worry caused by the anxiety disorder is excessive, difficult to control, and out of proportion with the situation. This extreme anxiety can be debilitating, but it is also treatable.

It is possible to live well with GAD if a person gets professional treatment, practices relaxation strategies, actively works toward changing negative thoughts, and engages in healthy lifestyle habits that minimize stress.

Getting Diagnosed and Treated

Living with GAD presents many challenges, but without treatment it can take all the joy out of life. The best thing anyone who struggles with anxiety can do is get a professional evaluation. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional will use observations, interviews, and other evaluation tools to determine if someone should be diagnosed with GAD or another anxiety disorder. With an accurate diagnosis from a professional, treatment can then begin.

Treatment for GAD is essential for living well with this chronic condition. Anxiety disorders have no cure, but they can be successfully managed with treatment and self-care. Medication is an important component of overall treatment for anxiety. Patients are often prescribed benzodiazepines to manage anxiety in the short-term and antidepressants, which take longer to begin working, for long-term management.

Along with medications, patients being treated with anxiety benefit from therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the gold standard for managing anxiety. CBT teaches patients to recognize negative thoughts and behaviors, to be aware of irrational worries and fears, and to take steps to change them. Additionally, a comprehensive GAD treatment plan includes teaching strategies for relaxation, for coping with stress, and for practicing healthy habits that combat anxiety.

Taking Active Steps to Combat Anxiety

A treatment plan is only the beginning when it comes to living with generalized anxiety disorder. For the best long-term outcomes it is important to be proactive and take steps to prevent and manage anxiety. A good treatment program will teach patients numerous strategies for controlling anxiety after treatment has ended. It will also help each patient develop a plan for using these and other strategies at home. Residential care for GAD is a great way to kick-start management of this condition, but patients then need to take control and take active steps for lifelong success in combating anxiety.

Changing Negative Thoughts to Positive

One of the most powerful things a patient in treatment for anxiety disorders can learn is how to change negative thoughts and behaviors. This is the strength of CBT, and when a patient embraces the therapy, he or she learns how to take those strategies and keep using them long after treatment is over. Anxiety cannot simply be driven away by willpower, but the negative thoughts can be altered.

Changing negative thoughts begins with awareness. It is easy to worry without actually giving it much thought. CBT teaches patients to be more aware and to actively recognize anxiety and determine what is causing it. They then learn to take the negative thoughts surrounding those worries, like “If I go to that party something embarrassing will happen and everyone will make fun of me,” and change it to something more positive: “If I go to that party I’ll get to see people I haven’t spoken to for a while, and if I really feel uncomfortable I can always leave.”

It takes practice to master this, but with the tools provided by a good therapist and active engagement in CBT, it gets easier. The more a person actively tries to recognize and change the negative thoughts associated with worry, the easier it becomes to manage and minimize anxiety.

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Using Relaxation Techniques

Another thing that a good treatment plan for anxiety teaches patients is how to induce relaxation. Having several practical strategies can help a person take immediate steps in a stressful situation to reduce anxiety and relax the body. These are techniques that combine the body and the mind to bring quick relief at times when anxiety is building and threatens to take over:

  • Deep breathing. This relaxation technique uses deep and slow breaths to induce relaxation. When anxiety rises, so does breathing rate, so intentionally slowing it down induces relaxation.
  • Meditation. Mindfulness meditation is known to reduce stress and anxiety, even after just a few minutes, and it is easy to do. Similar practices that use mindfulness and reduce stress include tai chi and yoga.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Slowly tensing and then relaxing muscles in the body both induces relaxation and draws the mind away from anxiety.
  • Autogenic relaxation. Imagining words, mantras, and suggestions along with peaceful, relaxing images and awareness of tension leaving the body help create relaxation in a stressful situation.
  • Visualization and guided imagery. Guided imagery involves visualizing a peaceful or calm place and focusing on what it looks, sounds, and smells like to reduce stress.

Relaxation strategies can be very useful in reducing stress and managing anxiety, but they take practice. The more they are practiced, the more useful they will be in times of more intense stress.

Making Lifestyle Changes and Healthy Habits

Healthy lifestyle habits and positive changes are important in creating a life in which anxiety and stress are minimized. Some people find that making big changes are necessary to reduce stress. For instance, a job may be causing the most stress, so changing professions can help. An unhealthy and stressful relationship may cause more stress than enjoyment; cutting ties with certain people can help. Smaller changes and healthy habits that promote a positive mindset with less anxiety include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting adequate exercise and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and drugs
  • Getting enough high-quality sleep
  • Spending time doing enjoyable and relaxing activities
  • Taking time to be alone and reflective
  • Being more socially engaged

Ongoing Treatment and Care

For someone striving to live well with GAD it is important to remember that this is a chronic illness. To manage it requires active, consistent, and ongoing care. With a solid foundation of professional treatment, most patients can continue living their lives, practicing self-care, using relaxation techniques, and minimizing stress to control anxiety and keep it at a manageable level. However, there is always a chance that anxiety will flare up again, requiring more treatment. It is important not to get frustrated by these setbacks and to recognize that GAD is chronic, has no cure, and will require occasional treatment from professionals, just like any many other illnesses.

Caring for Someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Living with and loving someone who struggles with anxiety can be challenging. It can trigger frustration, anxiety, and compassion fatigue, but it can also be difficult for another person to understand. Not everyone who has a loved one with GAD realizes just how serious it is and how debilitating it can be. The first step in helping someone with excessive anxiety is to listen without judgement and to encourage that person to seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment. If already in treatment, encouraging that person to stick with it and supporting them throughout treatment is crucial.

Understanding and patience are needed when living with someone with GAD. It is important to learn more about anxiety disorders to be able to provide compassion and empathy. It’s easy to get frustrated, but this reaction will only exacerbate anxiety. Instead, be there to listen and support. Provide friendship and the basis of a social network. Encourage the person struggling with anxiety to go out and socialize. Greater social connection helps reduce the burden of anxiety.

While it may seem impossible to live well with generalized anxiety disorder, it can be done and the prognosis is generally very good. The key to managing this condition is to start with good treatment and to follow it up with numerous strategies that promote relaxation, minimal stress, and a healthy, positive lifestyle.