What’s it like to have generalized anxiety disorder?
It's very unpleasant to experience anxiety on a regular basis. Coping is something that takes time to learn and not easy to do on your own.
“When felt appropriately, anxiety is beneficial and can keep you out of harm's way… the anxiety you may feel while hiking near a steep drop-off, for instance, will cause you to be more careful and purposeful in your movements. However, anxiety may occur even when there's no real threat, causing unnecessary stress and emotional pain. While many believe anxiety and stress to be the same, persistent anxiety actually evokes quite a different experience in your brain.”(2)
In contrast, a person diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, one of the symptoms of a panic attack is a feeling of imminent death or doom, this feeling is combined with intense physical symptoms that are nearly identical to a heart attack. For me, it actually starts out with feeling overwhelmed, and very quickly progresses to shortness of breath, nausea, a headache and tears. This is an over simplistic description of my own symptoms, because it is extremely hard to describe in words the level of pain and panic that are actually felt in each moment. They almost always involve a sense of fear, dread, or apprehension.
It's hard to enjoy life on a consistent level. A person with even moderate anxiety rarely experiences a peace of mind. They are often fearful, worrisome, and unhappy. A person with anxiety doesn’t like being this way but they honestly have no idea what to do to change. It seems as if things are too much work and no one understands the way they feel. Thoughts of “what if” and other hopeless thinking literally drains their energy.
Another annoying symptom of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) is startling easily. (3) My children have learned through experience that to attempt to make me jump will bring me to tears and possibly they will shed tears as well! I literally hate surprises, they feel so out of control.
Anxiety is not logical. When a person with anxiety disorder experiences something that triggers them, it may or may not make sense to others. Others may think that the person experiencing the anxiety is “making a mountain out of a molehill” or exaggerating the issue, but I assure you, the person experiencing the anxiety does not and probably cannot see it from your perspective. Trying to rationalize away the thoughts of a person experiencing a panic attack or anxiety will be fruitless.
Causes of anxiety
Some theorize that anxiety is inherited while others suggest that increased stress often appears to trigger the disorder; stressors such as a death in the family, an illness, job loss or divorce. “Stress from positive events such as marriage or a new job can also trigger it. But mental health professionals say stress is merely a trigger, not the cause.” (4)
For myself, I believe certain events during my own childhood set me up for a tendency towards anxiety. Starting in my early 20’s I suffered from a very mild form of anxiety, though I had no idea that’s what it was. I suffered with mild anxiety on and off then it suddenly got a lot worse after I repeatedly went through several stressful events that I did not handle well. These life events were extremely stressful and I had been taught as a child that showing emotion was a sign of weakness, so I continued to be strong for those around me.
Events such as the sudden onset of illness in my father which rapidly led to his death, then my own sister missing our father’s funeral as she was admitted to the hospital for an emergency gall bladder removal then subsequently being diagnosed with cancer. Then watching her suffer nearly two years and finally succumb to death, all while going through financial stress in my own family, coupled with marital issues, and plenty more.
Why can’t you control it?
Anxiety changes brain chemistry in a way that creates negative thinking – negative thinking reduces the ability to think positively, which in turn makes it harder to control anxiety. (1)
Believe me, no one chooses to have anxiety, and everyone who has it wishes they could make it just go away. I suffered from anxiety for years, over a decade really, before I even understood what was wrong with me.
I was so used to the feelings of anxiety that I truly didn't realize what my problem was and I just continued to suffer in silence. As my anxious feelings intensified, it sometimes led to isolation from the people around me, physical symptoms such as exhaustion, and related mental health problems, like mild to moderate depression.
These feelings can be made worse by advice from well meaning people, such as a Pastor who once told me that “Christians do not suffer from mental illnesses” which left me wondering; am I not a Christian, or is all this mental suffering just an illusion? Thankfully, I worked through that and now know that this particular pastor is unfortunately misinformed.
It can also be made worse by hurried doctors who, caught in the system, just try to put a band-aid (pills) on it and move on without getting to know what is going on in the life of the patient. I actually had one experience like this with a doctor in my early 20’s. I had only gone to one time for strep-throat, who after I broke down crying in his office due to the sheer exhaustion of everything I was going through, wrote me a prescription for Prozac.
For me, this was definitely the wrong path, and I can write an entirely separate blog post about what happened to me after I started taking Prozac. For brevity, I’ll just say that I made many bad choices while under the numbing influence of Prozac that affected my life long term. In my opinion, antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs should only be prescribed by Psychiatrists, not general practitioners. However, that is just MY opinion.
Dealing with anxiety
What NOT to say to someone with GAD:
- suggesting they just “get over it”
- it’s not a big deal or “why are you making a big deal out of this?” and even “it’s not as bad as you think”
- just calm down
- everything’s going to be fine
- you just need to pray more
- you need to take better care of yourself
- guilt trips and forced activity (for example “you need to get out” or “if you really want to feel better you will do _______”) and “why are you like this?”
- assuming your normal stress is the same feeling as someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder.
Vicious circle thought patterns which often make no sense to others seem so realistic to a person with GAD. I have tried many times to talk to my caring friends and family about whatever I might be going through, but they simply cannot understand. Then I feel guilty for complaining about how I feel or about being negative.
This results in my beating myself up or trying to make myself “snap out of it” or “get a grip” and the more I try the more it seems to spiral out of control. It's not uncommon to be at a total loss when you have a loved one with anxiety. It is definitely an uphill battle to live with someone suffering from GAD.
What might help if you have a loved one with GAD:
- Listen. Let the person know that you are there and you are willing to listen. So many times, it really helps the person suffering with anxiety just to get a lot off their chest. Don’t try to fix everything.
- When you offer to help, say things like, “What can I do to help?” or “Is there anything I can do to help”
- Call to check on them, but don’t be offended if they don’t answer. Sometimes a person with anxiety just doesn’t feel like talking, or sometimes they just can’t talk without crying.
- Try (though it may be hard) not to get frustrated with them and be forgiving.
- Try not to let the anxiety affect you and don’t expect immediate improvement
Some suggestions for getting help if you suffer from GAD:
- If you are suffering from depression seek help immediately, if your depression includes suicidal thoughts call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Seek a licensed therapist. Each state establishes its own licensing requirements for therapists, however the minimum educational credential to become a therapist is a master's degree. I see a Psychologist, if I wanted a prescription for medication however, I would need to see a Psychiatrist, as Psychologists’ do not prescribe medications. Often, insurance will cover some or all treatment with a psychologist, even my insurance pays half, and it’s the worst insurance plan!
- It helps if you can exercise daily, even better if you exercise outdoors. (However, with some people, the effects of anxiety can cause such physical exhaustion that even getting through daily activities is a struggle and exercise seems out of reach.)
- In cases where exercise is too much even a slow relaxing walk can do wonders for your symptoms, due to the movement and breathing that occurs while walking. (6)
- If even walking seems like too much of a chore, sit outside, or near an open window.
- Follow a healthier diet and avoid sugar. While sugar alone cannot cause anxiety, it can exacerbate the symptoms and make treatment more difficult. (5)
- Improve your gut health to improve you mental health. Especially by putting the good bacteria back into your system. (7) This will mean cutting out sugars, for sure.
- It’s also important to choose who you talk to about anxiety wisely. If your best friend suffers from anxiety, it’s probably a good idea not to count on each other for support as often this just increases the anxiety of both people.
- Make sure to admit to those close to you that you suffer from GAD if you have been diagnosed. I spent several years trying to pretend it didn’t exist, and I’m sure many people wonder what the heck was wrong with me! Some probably still do… It’s not easy for family members to understand, accept or cope with another person’s anxiety.
- Check out my Pinterest Board with Ideas and Natural Remedy Suggestions by clicking on the link below:
Some Additional Articles:
Do you or a loved one suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Attacks? How do you cope? I would love to hear from you!