The Best Ways to Beat Generalized Anxiety

We are all a bit anxious from time to time. The mere stresses of everyday life present with situations that we find perplexing and worrisome, igniting the classic fight-or-flight phenomenon. This is consistent with living life on its terms and not ours, that is, none of us really knows what’s in store for us on any given day. We can organize ourselves physically and emotionally; we can record a to-do agenda in our physical calendar; we can anticipate potential roadblocks, interruptions and what might go awry with our day as we’ve planned it; and still something unexpected, something we’ve given nary a thought to pops up and blindsides us as if it came out from the proverbial “left field.”

And all of this is okay because it smacks of our having to accept uncertainty and ambiguity as an integral part of getting up every day. And few things are more rewarding than introducing ourselves to an unanticipated challenge, getting acquainted with it, motivating ourselves to go right up to the place where the it lives, facing it down, and then solving or conquering it. This is the stuff of which self-esteem is made. There is nothing more personally empowering than charting a direction for our lives, plowing through the steps pursuant to reaching our destination and mowing down the inevitable obstacles encountered along the way.

stress_meterWhat’s happening though to those who fall prey to worrying about the demons that plague their day? The answer is that they are examining what arises in an un-empowered way. The worry consumes a considerable amount of time and resolved worries are often replaced with new ones.  The tail wags the dog because people cede control to the undesirable problem or nuisance which is driving the worry.  And once the worry starts gripping them like a vise, avoidance takes root and little gets accomplished because solvable obstacles loom as large as King Kong.

If such a scenario plagues you or someone you’re working with, there are several action steps which have stellar track records for addressing and reeling in unbridled worry:

  1. Sort out what is a real problem in the present, what can and cannot be controlled and what’s actually doable.  It’s interesting that anxious people are often very competent at handling REAL, identifiable problems. This is because an unmistakable problem points us toward a solution path that leaves little if any doubt as to the steps needed to solve it. Here’s an example: A client of mine that I’m treating for anxiety reported to me that he had all 4 of his automobile tires stolen. When I inquired as to how this affected him, he stated that after absorbing the initial shock and realizing that he most assuredly wouldn’t be recovering the stolen tires, he quickly sprang into action by calling the police, contacting his insurance company, scheduling an appointment with the company’s adjuster and purchasing another set of tires. In this example, the man clearly identified what he could control what he couldn’t and acted accordingly. Why?  Because a clear plan of action calms the anxious mind, removing any ambiguity as to what needs to done in the present moment.
  2. Distinguish what is a problem from what might be a problem. If a person working in a stable job where there have been no layoffs in many years finds himself asking “what if I lose my job,” it should be recognized that, given the company’s history, this is no more than an anxious thought because there is no specific problem to be solved. On the other hand, if this same person has become aware that his company will lay off 30 percent of its workforce within 3 months, then an actual, possible problem exists, and this can be addressed with a plan.
  3. Commit to resolving the worry through planning. Let’s say someone is concerned about a breakdown on the road during a long automobile trip. In such an instance, it’s important to plan for the “what if” and the “what.” The “what if” might include recording the phone number of the state police in one’s phone, making sure that a AAA membership is current and active and checking the spare tire before embarking. The “what” (when it happens), would mean actually calling the police or AAA.
  4. Develop a thought-stopping technique and get the body moving.  For someone wishing to push away from worrisome thoughts, instructing themselves to say STOP immediately, is a must. This should then be followed up with listening to a meditation CD, an audiobook, singing out loud or conjuring up a healthy, pleasant or even breathtaking image that one has or would like to experience. But this is not enough. To accelerate the thought-changing process, moving the body is essential. When thought change and physical action are working in unison, it’s much harder for the worrier to keep replacing one anxious thought with another and another. Practically any activity can work. If at home, examples are cleaning the house, doing a load of laundry, taking a walk outside or tending to a pet. At work, walking around the desk or up and down a couple of flights of stairs while thinking about the work task at hand can be most helpful.
  5. Medication. Medicating generalized anxiety will numb symptoms only, not extinguish them; providing only short-term relief from worry by reducing the excitability factor. Thus benzodiazepines like Klonopin should be reserved for intractable worry, accompanied by excessive rumination, to serve as a springboard for launching the identification, thought-stopping and behavioral action steps discussed above.

Biological constructs as well as life experiences shape anxiety – even when there is no objective evidence that something is clearly wrong or is a problem. In this vein, a threatening situation and its accompanying thoughts are always lurking around in search of a subject. The good news is that is not only manageable, but in many cases is solvable.

But you’ve got to do the work!

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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