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  • Judith Pearmain

Are you suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

In our brain we have an area called the amygdala (the emotional brain). It is very small but packs an almighty punch when it comes to controlling our fear and anxiety. When it senses danger, it fires up and can take control over our thinking brain. It remembers situations and when faced with them again will go into an automatic response, not letting logic have it’s say. It has a large part to play in how we cope with anxiety.

Anxiety is part of our everyday life, it’s normal to be worried about starting a new job, taking an exam, having a medical test. In fact, anxiety helps to keep us safe as we check out situations more thoroughly when we feel that curl of concern in in our stomachs.

But when anxiety and fear become habitual and automatic and starts impacting your life, potentially resulting in panic attacks, don’t leave it untreated.

Check out this video to learn more about anxiety, it explains it well: Stress Bucket - YouTube

GAD can be caused by a combination of factors including:

  • Health worries (COVID has exacerbated anxiety in both adults and children)

  • Relationship difficulties

  • Work-related problems

  • Financial struggles

  • Traumatic experiences including violence, neglect, loss, rejection

  • Drug and alcohol misuse

  • Overactivity in the brain areas involved in emotions and behaviour

  • Imbalance of chemicals involved in the control and regulation of mood

  • Inherited anxiety – a predisposition can be passed on genetically

GAD can have a big impact of how you feel in your body and shows up in different ways:

  • Insomnia

  • Exhaustion

  • Digestive problems

  • Nausea

  • Muscle tension

  • Headaches

  • High blood pressure

  • Poor concentration

  • Confusion

  • Pain in your back or legs

  • Body tics

  • Affect your fine motor skills – handwriting and co-ordination

It can also leave you feeling:

  • Nervous

  • Being risk averse

  • Predicting the worst

  • Avoiding conflict

  • Low or excessive motivation

  • Social anxiety

  • Sensitive to rejection

So how can you help relieve anxiety?

If you feel panic in the moment do not try and resist it, but instead take control of it:

  • Remove the trigger if possible, but if it’s in your mind try to find a safe space to ride out your panic (and remember it will be short term)

  • Reassure yourself that you are OK, that you are not in a risky situation.

  • Focus on your breathing, keep it slow and breath into your tummy like you are blowing up a balloon, then exhale all the air out until there is nothing left to blow. You may want to breather into a paper bag or into your cupped hands.

  • Close your eyes and imagine warming your hands by the fire or holding a cup of hot tea.

  • Focus on what is around you, find something you can describe to yourself in minute details, identify smells in the air, listen for sounds. You want to bring yourself back into the present and not be focusing on your panic.

  • Write down what is worrying you. The more you concentrate on your writing the calmer your brain will become.

Exercising regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet can help with anxiety. If you drink alcohol, try to reduce your consumption (alcohol is a major trigger for anxiety) and if you are a smoker, try to quit. Sleep is also very important, think how much better your brain copes with negative thoughts when you’ve had a good night’s sleep compared to when you are tired.

In talking therapy, we look at your life experiences, your thought patterns, feeling, physical symptoms and responses and your avoidance mechanisms. Working together we can start untangling what is happening in your brain, challenge your negative thinking and create new thought pathways to help you to cope.

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