So what is GAD?
GAD is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, and feeling out of control, stressed and overwhelmed. Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect many people in South Africa in particular due to increasing stress at work, conflict at home and trauma in our country. Anxiety fills people’s lives with overwhelming fear that does not seem to be rational or fixable by pure mind power. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as a business presentation or a first date, anxiety disorders are chronic, relentless, and can grow progressively worse if not treated.
GAD can affect our whole being, how we feel, how we behave and has very real physical symptoms. It feels a bit like fear but whereas we know what we are frightened of, we often don’t know what we are anxious about.
What causes anxiety?
Stressors in our lives often trigger anxiety. Some of us are more vulnerable to anxiety than others and “negative self-talk” can make it worse as we can develop the habit of always telling ourselves that the worst will happen. Your brain gets used to functioning in this stressed and anxious state and creates new pathways that it uses over and over again. This manifests anxiety and it can grow in intensity over time.
How will I recognize anxiety?
The following are possible physical symptoms:
· Tense muscles
· Churning stomach
· Nausea, diarrhoea
· Backache, headache
· Heart palpitations
· Numbness or “pins and needles” in arms, hands or legs
Often people mistake those symptoms of anxiety for a serious physical illness and become worried that they might be having a heart attack or a stroke as those can have similar symptoms.
When is anxiety a problem?
We all become anxious from time to time. It is normal to become anxious if there is a real trigger. But anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with life without there being an actual trigger, it is a problem when it goes on too long and when we cannot control it any more.
How can you overcome anxiety:
Does avoidance help?
Unfortunately, avoiding situations that make you anxious might help you feel better in the short term but not in the long term. The trouble is the anxiety keeps returning, and can spread to other situations. Like my client Rita, 37 (name changed)) who was raped when she was a teenager coming home from a party. The man who raped her was an acquaintance of hers who had dropped her off at home and forced himself on her. The man is a good runner who runs at the beachfront on a regular basis. After the incident she started to avoid the beach as it made her feel very anxious when thinking of bumping into him. As time went on, she started to avoid all the beaches in the country, as she was never sure if she would see him at any one of them. The thought of seeing him made her feel so anxious that she decided not to wear costumes any more or go close to water related areas, such as beaches or pools. She developed a deep unhappiness in her life, which spread into her work life and family life. In addition she started to gain weight, as she didn’t want any man to think that she was good looking- subconsciously hoping to avoid a repeat of this terrible incident. Unpacking all the deeper layers of her anxiety allowed her to feel free and regain her control in her life. She is feeling much calmer, happier, is able to lose weight and can go wherever she chooses to go. Rita needed only a few hypnotherapy and counselling sessions to overcome her anxiety.
OK, so what can we do to feel better?
· Identify your stressors in your life. Write them down and see what you can do to overcome them. Keep an eye on stressors such as pressures and deadlines and make a commitment to taking time out from study or work. Time management is very important to decrease stress and anxiety.
· Learn to say “no”. Many people feel anxious because they want to please others and cannot say “no”. Learning to say “no” can help you to have less time pressure, to able to complete tasks on time, feel that you are actually achieving more and gain respect from others again as you can now honour your commitments and fulfil them.
· Learn a variety of relaxation techniques. Physical relaxation methods and meditation techniques really do help. Use some guided relaxation CDs or go to a hypnotherapy session, which is incredible to de-stress and overcome anxiety.
· Look after your physical health. Eat healthily (avoid sugar), get regular exercise and try to keep a regular sleep pattern.
· Practise deep abdominal breathing. This consists of breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose, taking the air right down to you abdomen. Breathe in slowly, count to 5 and breath out slowly again counting to 5. Try to focus on your breathing at least 3 times a day. Breathing techniques can be more powerful than tranquilizers according to different research studies.
· Be mindful of what you are thinking. We tend to be our own worst enemy. We can have a lot of negative thoughts in our mind that can decrease our self-esteem and make us feel anxious. Would you ever say all those nasty things to a friend? If your answer is no, then why do you say them to yourself? Learn to replace “negative self talk” with “positive self talk.” It is useful to make a list of the negative thoughts you often have and write a list of positive, believable thoughts to replace them. Use them over and over like a broken record in your mind.
- Train your brain: When measuring the brainwaves of a person who has high levels of anxiety, it can be seen that there are high beta brainwaves on many points in the brain. Those fast beta brainwaves cause anxiety, stress and ruminations. The longer we have those stressed brainwaves, the more we create faulty pathways in the brain. Our brain can unlearn to relax if there is prolonged anxiety and stress in our lives. Often people start to take tranquilizers to feel a sense of calm and to be able to switch off to sleep. Medication is not always necessary, has side-effect(effects) and can be habit forming. Neurofeedback training is a form of brain training that can help your brain to change. It can calm your brainwaves down and create new, better pathways. Neurofeedback training is like going to gym for your brain. It takes a number of sessions to re-wire and strengthen your brain. Training is safe, long lasting and fun. Try it out, as there are no side effects, when choosing an experienced and qualified practitioner who uses internationally recognised medical devices.
Anxiety can be exhausting and debilitating. There is no need to keep on suffering from anxiety any more. I have had so many clients who thought that they had to live with this feeling until they die- this is not true. Now that you know what anxiety is, where it comes from and what can be done about it, it is time to take the control back over your life and start living.