THE WORRY MONSTER: GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER

DENISE L. LUCIA, PHD • 2018 • BLOG POST

Finally, 5280 week has arrived! You, along with your friends and spouse, are off to hit the hot spots in Lodo/LoHi and then, as you near home, group consensus is to get a cocktail to wrap up the evening in Cherry Creek at Elway’s or perhaps by Park Meadows Mall at Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille. You typically would enjoy yourself at this annual gathering; however, you notice you are consumed by worry thoughts, you are irritable with your spouse, and you have difficulty focusing on the group conversation.

You would not be human if you did not experience worry about daily events. You may worry about how to coordinate tomorrows schedule with your spouse and children, how you will manage leave from work in order to schedule that long overdue dentist appointment, or how you will have time to go to the grocery store or complete the yard work before the weekend is over. However, the worry thoughts spiral out of control, and you find yourself worrying about everything and anything. Anxiety develops due to worry, and it starts to impact appetite, sleep, mood, daily functioning, and life enjoyment. An estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.

• When does normal worry and concern turn into Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
• What factors contribute to the development of GAD?
• What can you do to eliminate these worries?

GAD SYMPTOMS

• Cognitively (your thoughts), you experience worry that is prolonged, excessive (consuming a lot of time), and difficult to control. Excessive worry is about several areas in your life, not just one isolated area. You often catch yourself asking “What if…?” statements, and ruminating and fixating on a thought(s). You may catastrophize, in which you think of the worst possible outcome and play out scenarios in your mind that result in intensified worry or fear. This leads to difficulty with focus and concentration.

• Emotionally, you may experience a general feeling of apprehension, nervousness, irritability, feel tense and on-edge, and feel fearful or scared.

• Physically, your body may experience fatigue, muscle tension, and your sleep may be impacted.

• Normal worry and concern turns into GAD when you are experiencing excessive worry about multiple areas, in addition to three or more physical or emotional symptoms, on most days, for at least 6 months, and the symptoms cause great distress or impact functioning in one or more areas of life (i.e., work, social or intimate relationships, school).

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

• External Factors in your environment that can play a role in your symptoms may include concern about job security or work stress, finances, health/well-being of family members, marital stability, social support, your sense of safety due to local and/or world events, weather (i.e., hail, snow, tornadoes), life cycle transitions, and/or unplanned change.

• Internal Factors that can play a role in your symptoms may include your general health and medical diagnoses, biological predisposition to mental health symptoms, past exposure to trauma or abuse/neglect, diet, exercise, sleep behaviors, and/or abuse of medications or substances.

THERE IS HOPE

There is hope, because you can take control of your anxiety, instead of your anxiety controlling you! It is good to have some worry and anxiety about life events, as this fuels us to action. However, in therapy you will learn how to set boundaries around your worry thoughts that are excessive by learning how to challenge unhelpful and anxious thoughts, and replace them with more helpful and rational thoughts.

The recommended approach for treating GAD is using a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach. Evidenced based interventions (grounded in research) learned in therapy may include:

• Thought Challenging
• Healthy Coping and Problem Solving Strategies
• Relaxation (chronic worry often translates to fatigue, muscle tension, high blood pressure, headaches/migraines, teeth grinding, and stomach upset).
• Breathing Retraining (address panic response)