One of the most important elements of having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is learning how to cope with persistent anxiety and physical symptoms. Although each person has a unique experience with GAD, there are many common symptoms present with this condition that most everyone will experience to some degree.
These symptoms include physical symptoms (muscle tension,1 body aches, etc.), behavioral symptoms (procrastination, isolation, etc.), and emotional symptoms (intrusive thoughts, constant worry,1 etc.). Various coping styles and strategies can help manage all of them.
Social Coping Strategies
For some people, social coping strategies can help manage symptoms, overcome fear, and even improve social life for an overall better quality of life. Effective options include the following.
When we feel anxious it is common to want to pull away from others and disconnect. This leads us to feeling removed from others, our family and our community.
Finding events to participate in can help foster a sense of belonging and allow us to feel purposeful.
Not only are we keeping our bodies busy, but our minds as well.
Talk to Someone
Anxiety can lead us to believe that we are alone in our experience and no one will be able to relate. This is not true. Find a trusted person to talk with about your challenges. Share with important people in your life the experiences you are struggling with and don’t be afraid to open up conversation.
Being open about your challenges can also allow other people the space to share their struggles.
Finding a support system is important when we are struggling with anxiety. There are a variety of support resources available, both in-person options and online, that can be of great help. A community of people who not only understand but can offer tips and suggestions for helpful coping strategies can be valuable.
Anxiety tends to rob us of joy and gets in the way of us being able to have fun. Remember to nurture your longing to have fun and laugh. You can find humor in books, on television, or online sources. Taking a moment to laugh and have fun can offer a gentle reminder that the anxiety is not in charge.
Emotional Coping Strategies
Try these strategies for coping with intrusive thoughts, constant worry or fear, feelings of uncertainty, apprehension, dread, or overwhelm.
There are varied practices of mindfulness that can help with anxiety. Using techniques like mindfulness, prayer, and deep breathing can help slow down our anxious processing of thoughts and emotions.
By slowing down we are learning to be more present rather than hyper-focused on trying to anticipate and prepare for the future, which is what anxiety makes us focus on, even when there are no threats present.
Learn Your Triggers
As you practice slowing down and becoming more mindful, it will be helpful for you to pay attention to the situations that seem to trigger your anxiety. Although it won’t always be an option to avoid those triggers, being aware of them can help you gain clarity and take steps toward managing stress in those specific situations.
Learning cognitive ways to challenge your anxiety can help, such as diffusing anxious thoughts and calming the need to keep asking “what if.”
Remember that anxiety is not something you are experiencing because you are flawed in any way. Anxiety is influenced by a host of factors such as genetics, neurobiology, family history,4 and life experiences. There is no one cause of GAD and it is something that many people experience.
As impossible as it may seem, it can be helpful to learn to accept the journey and embrace it as an opportunity to learn and care for yourself in healthy ways. Accepting your emotions can improve your overall emotional health. Identifying the emotions is the first of multiple steps to achieving this.
Keep a Positive Attitude
There is no need to lose hope for better living. Many people challenged with anxiety, such as with generalized anxiety disorder, lead full, productive, and joyful lives.
The key is taking time to learn what strategies work well for you, stay connected to others, and remain positive.
Find inspiration through quotes, verses, music, nature, social connections, etc. We are surrounded by positive examples of hope and inspiration.
Practical Coping Strategies
Practical coping can ease physical symptoms like insomnia, digestive troubles, and more. They can help with emotional symptoms as well.
What we put into our bodies can influence how we feel physically and emotionally. Foods do not cause anxiety, but making good food choices can help us keep our mind and body healthy.
Eating things like sugary snacks and processed foods can lead to quick highs and lows in our blood sugar that can influence feelings of restlessness and fatigue.
Moving your body can be a great way to manage stress. Exercise helps to boost our endorphins and relieve tension. Try something new or go with an old favorite activity you enjoy. Any way that you choose to exercise will be of benefit.
Keep a consistent schedule and try to incorporate exercise three to four times per week or more. You may also try massage or progressive muscle relaxation to help ease muscle tension that is often experienced with anxiety.
Get Enough Sleep
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 1 in 3 adults in the United States get the recommended seven hours of sleep at night.6 Although it can be difficult to sleep when we experience anxiety, creating a reliable nighttime routine can help us relax and prepare for quality sleep.
Things like progressive relaxation, reading, and turning off electronics at least one hour before bed can help you prepare your mind and body for rest.
Shortness of breath can be a common physical symptom of anxiety, along with a tightened chest and muscle tension. In those moments we often forget to breathe and take rapid, shallow breaths. Practicing how to take slow abdominal breaths can help.
Things to keep in mind as you walk through your journey with generalized anxiety disorder is that you are not alone and you can live a full life. Although anxiety and worry may be an obstacle for you now, and even feel uncontrollable at times, there are resources, trained professionals, and coping techniques available to help. Learning how to navigate your triggers, reaching out for help, and keeping a positive attitude all help.
Taking care of yourself also involves talking with a professional who can put a plan of treatment in place. Talking with a counselor or other mental health provider on a regular basis can be helpful as well, to know that someone understands your experience and can help you learn to effectively navigate challenges as they arise.
By William Meek and Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician