Managing Feelings Self Improvement — 06 August 2014
Managing excessive anxiety

Most people experience anxiety when they encounter situations that challenge their level of comfort or competence. Harboring some fears about unfamiliar life challenges is adaptive. Yet, experiencing an ongoing, heightened state of worry, fear or doubt is compromising and debilitating.

Those who suffer from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) know all too well how challenging this disorder is. Mayo Clinic list of GAD’s symptoms include: “Constant worrying or obsessing about small or large concerns, feeling keyed up or on edge, being fatigued, having difficulty concentrating or “going blank”, being irritable, having muscle tension/aches, trembling, feeling twitchy or being easily startled, having trouble sleeping, sweating, having nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat, being worried or anxious even when there’s no apparent reason.”

They amplify, “You may feel intense worry about your safety or that of your loved ones, or you may have a general sense that something bad is about to happen. Your worries are unlikely to simply go away on their own. Most commonly they actually get worse over time.”

The causes of GAD are being studied at various academic and medical institutions. Researcher Amit Etkin and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine attempted to determine why some patients who experience anxiety and worry respond excessively to emotionally negative stimuli. They discovered that patients with GAD varied from normal subjects. The researchers found that something goes awry with the communication between their cingulate-amygdala circuit during unconscious emotion regulation. In other words, the study showed that “Patients with anxiety disorder were less able to regulate their responses to negative stimuli.”

They concluded, “People with generalized anxiety disorder have abnormalities in the way their brain unconsciously controls emotions. These findings could open up new avenues for treatments and change our understanding of how emotion is regulated in everyday life.”

Professor Alan Schatzberg, Chair of Stanford’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department stated that these findings “bring new insight into the biology of psychopathology as well as the mechanisms underlying the response to psychotherapy.”

Michel Dugas and associates at the University Of Laval, Quebec described GAD’s Main features as: “Intolerance of uncertainty, beliefs about worry, poor problem orientation and cognitive avoidance.” Their research classified their patients’ two types of worry: “Worry about immediate problems, such as meeting deadlines at work and worry about improbable future events such as one’s child dying in a car accident.” They concluded, “Patients need to learn to seek direct problem solving tools even if they are uncertain of the outcome beforehand and practice avoidance or neutralizing of threatening mental images.”

Living with GAD is a long-term challenge. The Mayo Clinic recommends managing this disorder with “medications and/or psychotherapy, making lifestyle changes, learning coping skills and using relaxation techniques.”

To manage your anxiety,

  • Distinguish between ordinary cautiousness and GAD. The former safeguard your wellbeing, the latter hinders it.
  • To reduce your anxiety, use logic to assess your thinking.
  • If you have GAD, seek medical and psychological help for increased comfort and healthier functioning.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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