Understanding the specifics of generalized anxiety

All of us worry. Whether it be about the social lives of our kids, the health of our family, the status of our careers, or the complexity of our personal needs, we may fear a negative outcome and inevitably worry about any or all of the above. And it is not unreasonable to conclude that having these types of preoccupations is “normal.” However, when the worry is all-encompassing and the ruminating affects our quality of life, we have a problem - it's called Generalized Anxiety (or, when it causes significant clinical distress, it’s called Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD).

Many of my clients who do not yet understand GAD often say that they are “overthinkers” or “worry-warts.” If you’ve ever used these types of words to explain the source of your stress, listen up – you may have generalized anxiety.

Essentially, GAD has three components: Catastrophizing. Desire to Control. Fear of the Unknown.

Catastrophizing is being constantly preoccupied or worried about a negative outcome that might occur in the future. You become so flustered with the thought of something bad happening in the future that you rigorously worry in the present and attempt to control multiple elements in your day-to-day experiences just to attain some peace of mind (unfortunately, that peace of mind is a false sense of security). The truth is that you have zero control over what happens in the future. The world, as we know it, can be very unpredictable and individuals who have GAD also have a fear of the unknown. To an individual with GAD, that which is unknown cannot be tolerated because the unknown holds an absence of cues or warnings – essentially, in that which is unknown, they cannot foresee whether or not a catastrophe is brewing.

What can we do to reduce GAD?

Acknowledge The Truth About Your Control Issues
In your awareness of your desire to control things, you must acknowledge the real reason behind your control and that is: you are attempting to influence a future outcome. You are trying to control the present in order to ensure that a negative future outcome does not happen. Truth is, control is an illusion - we have no influence over the unpredictable future.

Balance Your Thoughts About The Future
Your most feared outcome does exist in the realm of future possibilities but you do not always have to play the horror movie of your future. Instead, you must realize that there is a plethora of possible realities in your future and you must stop giving time and headspace to the outcomes that are dark and gruesome.

Play the "What If" Game and Feel the Emotions
Acknowledging the many future possibilities will help but some people need more. In that case, you must play the "what if" game. Essentially, you must ask yourself what if your worst fear happens. You must expose yourself to your true fear. "What if I fail?" "What if I get demoted?" "What if I lose the house?" These are anxiety-provoking situations, but you cannot allow yourself to be victimized and crippled by your fears. You must be able to face them and to acknowledge that, even if they happen, you will make it through somehow. Even if your fears are related to death or cancer, you must expose yourself to that possibility, process your feelings and somehow grow bigger than the fear.

Remember Your Power and What You Do Have Control Over
I like to remind my clients of their power when we discuss their fears. We have a tendency to believe that if our fears manifested, they would swallow us whole. How about this thought for a change: Maybe that fear does not know who it is messing with. Maybe, just maybe, "cancer has barked up the wrong tree," for example. When thinking about our fears of the future, we often underestimate our ability to fight fearlessly. We have a power and resiliency that will show up when we need it most. You might not have control over a future outcome but you can trust that your mind and body will always fight when you need them too - mother nature saw to that. In the face of your fear, remember your strength.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.

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