Do you have any tips for coping with generalised anxiety disorder?

Our Spill therapists share some tips on how to cope with generalised anxiety disorder, stop worrying all the time and focus on doing good work

Do you have any tips for coping with generalised anxiety disorder? I worry all the time about bad things happening to me or my family. It's exhausting and is really interfering with my ability to do good work.

First therapist's response

The first thing I’m going to suggest to you, assuming you don’t already do it, is to do some therapy.

One of the most effective ways of addressing anxiety is allowing yourself  the freedom to talk about it with someone who won’t judge you and will give you the space to examine your own thoughts and feelings.

So often with anxiety we try and press it away to stop if from throwing us off course but this tends to make it stronger. It  becomes easier to remind yourself that, rationally, there is no reason to expect anything catastrophic to happen imminently, once we have given ourselves the opportunity to experience the discomfort of thinking that it might.

There are practical things you can do too.

Creating a structure in which you plan both exercise and connection with friends and family will help because your body and mind will respond favourably to physical activity and your emotions will be soothed by having the opportunity to speak to other people which will in turn help you break out of the echo chamber of your own negative thoughts.

Make sure you treat yourself well and with kindness.

Get enough sleep, eat healthily and regularly, and nurture a positive and empathic inner voice for when your anxiety is really pulling you down.

It’s easy for us to become frustrated with ourselves for accommodating anxious thoughts but its much more effective to be accepting, to remind yourself that “It’s just my anxiety. It’s horrible and uncomfortable, but it will pass.”

Ironically, the more you are able to tolerate your anxious thoughts and remain patient with yourself the faster they tend to disappear for a while and leave you the room to focus on other things.

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Second therapist's response

Your body is in survival mode. This is an exhausting state to be in and one that demands a lot of energy from you and means you experience the world differently. Here are some tiny tweaks that can help the body come out of this state (and soothe the intensity of the Generalised Anxiety Disorder)

1) Take 5 deep breaths. Notice how you feel. Take 5 more if you need. Breath is the one area of our nervous system that we have power over. We can choose to calm the system by slowing it down.

2) Find safety by being present (your brain cannot pay attention to its worries if it’s attending to the here and now. Bring your attention to 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

3)  Be kind to yourself. It’s human to feel worried. Lean into it, hear it and give it a cuddle (self-compassion) or ask for a cuddle from someone else.

4) Move! Know when to ‘up regulate’ as well as calm our energy levels. If we’re feeling agitated, we may need to move. What ways do you move in your day? This may mean anything from rigorous exercise to gentle stretching.

5) Reach out to others. Connection helps us through distress. They can be intimate and heavyweight where we discuss what we’re going through (close friends, partners, or a Spill therapist). They can also be lightweight and fun – such as smiling at the shopkeeper when you buy milk or having a laugh with a mate.

6) Introduce elements of play, creativity, change and spontaneity in your world.(e.g. have a different breakfast or eat outside, walk somewhere different, add music to an activity, paint, etc).

7)  Get outside. Nature is a great healer. It is a different air outside so our body’s energy shifts and we gain vitamin D.. We have a bigger horizon so our eyes and hearing shift (wider horizons calm us).

8) Do you have solid boundaries in place for work? How do you mark the start and end of your working day?

9) How do you build in breaks at work? Our minds can only focus for so long before they become exhausted – they need nourishing and restoring in between.

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Third therapist's response

Thanks for your question. You have GAD and you experience worries about terrible things happening to you or your family. This has a negative impact on you at work. This sounds tough and frightening. The following are tips to help you:

1) Aim to introduce regular relaxation strategies into your life. Anxiety leads to fight or flight and symptoms like difficulties breathing, increased heart rate, feeling dizzy, racing thoughts… Relaxation strategies help to counter anxiety symptoms, so try things like progressive muscle relaxation, time in nature, exercise, a relaxing bath, engaging in hobbies, meditation, deep-breathing practices. Relaxation strategies have cumulative benefits and you may need to try a strategy several times to feel the benefits. Experiment to find what works for you.

2) Identify triggers to your anxiety. It may be things like separation from a loved one, not getting enough sleep, or specific worries related to a family member’s health or current situation.

3) Eat well and make sure you get enough sleep. Poor diet and sleep contribute to anxiety symptoms.

4) Examine the thoughts you are having and ask yourself questions to check if they are likely or not. Ask questions like: am I making any assumptions? What would I think if I were feeling better? Do I have any evidence of this? What would a friend or family member say to reassure me?

5) Use grounding strategies if your thoughts are spiralling. You could try this exercise: label 5 things you can see and notice all of the details. Notice 4 things you can feel and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Identify 3 things you can hear. What noises have you been tuning out? Focus on 2 things you can smell in the air. Finally see if you can taste anything. You might wish to eat a sweet or chew gum to help you pay attention to this sense.

6) Acknowledge your feelings or tell someone else how you feel. Labelling feelings can help to diffuse anxiety as we validate ourselves when we do this.

7) Access therapy if you can, for example through Spill or another workplace therapy provider. Speaking to a therapist can help you build up your toolkit for managing anxiety on an ongoing basis.

All the very best.

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