Two readers (one from Australia and one from the US) have asked me to write about General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. They want to know how to get from GAD to GLAD, how to end their anxiety and return to enjoying life. But before starting, let me explain the difference between ordinary anxiety and anxiety as a mental disorder.
When you retire, will you have enough money to live comfortably? It is normal and helpful to worry about that. It is normal because life is unpredictable and it helps because our anxiety about the future causes us to prepare for it by earning and saving money while we can. And once we do something to avert what we’re worried about, we relax and get back to enjoying life.
When we no longer can control our anxiety it is called a disorder. The worrying of GAD sufferers is out of control. They worry about everything all the time. They live in fear that their happiness or well-being is threatened. And no matter what they do to prevent that from happening, the fear never subsides. The constant fear or sense of dread triggers the fight or flight response, which wreaks havoc on the nervous system, draining the sufferer of energy. Some of the typical symptoms of GAD include: chronic worrying, restless sleep, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, upset stomach, joint pain, muscle pains, tense shoulders, numbness, nausea, fear, irritability, a racing heart, trembling, hot or cold sensations, dizziness, tingling, headaches, difficulty swallowing, loss of focus, and sweaty, clammy hands.
The symptoms significantly impair the enjoyment of life, interfere with normal activity, and may even prevent one from carrying out important tasks. Anxiety is the major problem dealt with by therapists, and it affects 3~4% of the population. GAD usually strikes in the late teens or early twenties. But it can also start in the thirties or forties, but rarely later. It affects women at least twice as often as men.
Often, GAD victims suffer twice. First because of their symptoms. Second because much of the population dismisses their suffering. Confusing anxiety disorder with ordinary anxiety, they tell the GAD sufferer to “pull themselves together” or “get their act together.”
At first, psychiatrists labeled anxiety disorder into specific categories, including Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Phobia, and Specific Phobias (the top ten are 1. Acrophobia – Fear of Heights, 2. Claustrophobia – Fear of Enclosed Spaces, 3. Nyctophobia – Fear of the Dark, 4. Ophidiophobia – Fear of Snakes, 5. Arachnophobia – Fear of Spiders, 6. Trypanophobia – Fear of Injection or Medical Needles, 7. Astraphobia – Fear of Thunder and Lightning, 8. Nosophobia – Fear of Having a Disease, 9. Triskaidekaphobia – Fear of the Number 13).
However, many anxiety sufferers do not have panic attacks, phobias, obsessions, compulsions, or posttraumatic stress. So, psychiatrists came to call this type of disorder, General Anxiety Disorder. I mentioned earlier that GAD victims may suffer twice because of the lack of understanding of the public. Happily that is changing as celebrities come out, showing that they, too, are sufferers.
Famous people that have or had to deal with an anxiety disorder include: Anthony Hopkins (actor), Aretha Franklin (singer), Barbara Bush (former First Lady – U.S.), Barbra Streisand (singer), Burt Reynolds (actor), Charles Schultz (cartoonist), Cher (singer, actress), Courtney Love (singer, actress), David Bowie (singer), Dick Clark (television personality), Donny Osmond (actor), Eric Clapton (musician), Goldie Hawn (actress, producer), Howard Stern (media super star), Howie Mandel (comic), Isaac Asimov (author), James Garner (actor), Joan Rivers (comedian, actress), John Candy (comedian), John Madden (announcer), John Steinbeck (author), John Stuart Mill (philosopher), Johnny Depp (actor), Kim Basinger (actress), Marie Osmond (entertainer), Michael Jackson (singer), Naomi Campbell (model), Naomi Judd (singer), Nicholas Cage (actor), Nicole Kidman (actress), Nikola Tesla (inventor), Oprah Winfrey (media mega star), Ray Charles (musician), Roseanne Barr (comedian), Sally Field (actress), Sir Laurence Olivier (actor), Sissy Spacek (actress), Susan Powter (speaker, author), and Tom Snyder (TV host).
So, it should be clear that if you are an anxiety sufferer, you are not alone. If you’re a victim of GAD and haven’t done anything about it yet, or if you’ve been getting treatment for six months or more without improvement, it is time to look for a treatment method that will work for you, getting you from GAD to Glad. Here are a dozen options for you to consider. At least one of them has the key that will unlock your shackles and free you from your misery.
We live in a society where medication is overprescribed, and, at times, medication compounds the suffering of victims by adding dangerous side effects to their regimen. Imagine this conversation:
“Doctor, I feel in distress because my home is moldy.”
“Here, take this pill; it will make the moldy smell go away.”
Does that conversation make any sense? All pills do is mask the symptoms while leaving the problem intact. Drugs don’t teach you how to cope, but a good psychologist can.
To avoid the side effects of medication, some suffers have tried turning to herbs. For a while Kava and St. John’s-wort seemed to show promise, but after much study, it was found that they are no more effective than placebos (sugar pills).
If it appears that I favor therapy over medication, that is true, BUT there are times when victims have found that medication was the best thing that ever happened to them, for it completely turned their lives around. For those who are severely debilitated, see a professional. Therapy works best with those who suffer from milder anxiety.
Not everyone can learn well with self-study, but for those who can, here are some excellent books to consider:
FROM PANIC TO POWER: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life by Lucinda Bassett. This is also available as an audio book or a Kindle edition.
The Anxiety Book by Jonathan Davidson and Henry Dreher
b) Self-help Program
c) Self-help article
NOTE: In all the following treatments, you can either seek the help of a professional or do it yourself by using the resources provided.
3. Exposure Therapy
EXPOSURE THERAPY FOR ANXIETY: Principles and Practice by Jonathan S. Abramowitz PhD, Brett J. Deacon PhD, and Stephen P. H. Whiteside PhD.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook For Dummies by Rhena Branch and Rob Willson.
CHANGE YOUR THINKING: Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and Improve Your Life with CBT by Sarah Edelman, Ph.D.
5. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
How To Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You by Albert Ellis .
The Practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, by Albert Ellis and Windy Dryden
6. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
GET OUT OF YOUR MIND AND INTO YOUR LIFE: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith.
7. Morita Therapy
Long before ACT Therapy (#6) taught the importance of acceptance, Dr Shoma Morita (1874~1938), was doing so at Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo. Influenced by Zen Buddhism he taught that rather than resisting or trying to change worrying thoughts, one should just accept them while going about business, allowing thoughts to come and go.
Morita Therapy and the True Nature of Anxiety-Based Disorders: SHINKEISHITSU (Shinkeishitsu is Japanese for nervousness) by Masatake Morita and Peg LeVine.
a) Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana
b) Loving Kindness Meditation (helpful for social anxiety)
10. Diet and Exercise
- Cut saturated fats and increase good fats (omega-3 fatty acids)
- Eat healthy proteins (fish, nuts, seeds, soy, chicken, turkey, low-fat or nonfat diary)
- Drastically reduce white refined sugar
- Eat more whole foods (fruits, vegetables, grains)
- Cut caffeine as much as possible
- Regular exercise significantly reduces anxiety and depression.
11. Writing Poetry
Writing poetry can play a big role in reducing anxiety. It takes your mind off your worries, satisfies the need for creativity, is cathartic, and you may inspire others by publishing your work. He is an example poem created by Michael Ely:
Overcoming Anxiety – How to Cope
Feeling anxious late at night
As i leave the train station
Was that guy staring at me
Or is it just my imagination.
Don’t want to come across as paranoid
Or as if i’m running scared
But if there’s anyone in the shadows
I want to be prepared.
Walking home in the darkness
I’m certain i’m the only one on this street
But i’m sure beneath the sound of my own steps
I can hear somebody else’s feet.
A car full of people appears
Draws up to me as it stops to park
The driver calls me over
And sits there in the dark.
I approached the car
And was feeling very wary
This was a scene
That could become quite scary.
They were just after directions
So that was okay
I helped them out
And they were on their way.
I knew that i had to get a reality check
Or i would scare myself to death
The best thing i knew to get rid of this anxiety
Was to start by taking a deep breath.
A few more deep breaths
And i’m feeling very calm
Now the only thing giving me away
Is the sweat on my palm.
I’m now approaching my house
So i’m feeling a good bit more bolder
But just to reassure myself
I take one last look over my shoulder.
Once we work our way from GAD to GLAD, let’s maintain our emotional health by remembering the words of Marcus Annaeus Seneca (BC 3~65 AD), “There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.”
We also want to be more accepting of the nature of life. Life is not supposed to be entirely comfortable, for we need things to be afraid of if we wish to experience courage, victory, and exhilaration.