Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety, and can be effectively treated with the help of medication and therapy. However, along with professional treatment, certain coping strategies can also help manage the disorder better and ensure favorable treatment outcomes.
Ways To Cope With Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Certain self-help strategies for GAD can enable you to manage your condition better and help in the recovery process. However, it should be noted that these strategies are most effective when utilized along with medical treatment or therapy.
Some self-help tips to cope with GAD are discussed below.
Physical Coping Strategies For GAD
Physical coping involves using strategies such as practicing certain breathing techniques, exercising, eating well, etc.
1. Practice breathing exercises
Shallow breathing or difficulty in breathing is one of the most common physiological symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Shortness of breath can also be accompanied by muscle tension and heart palpitations.
Taking deep and slow breaths from your belly, also known as diaphragmatic breathing 1, can help you reduce tension, relax muscular spasms, enhance blood supply to muscles, and increase the overall oxygen supply in the body 2. Studies 3 have found that deep breathing can be highly effective in improving mood and reducing stress, anxiety, heart rate, and salivary cortisol levels.
Moreover, box breathing 4, another form of deep breathing can be especially effective in overcoming generalized anxiety disorder. Yogic breathing techniques 5 or Pranayama have also been found to be beneficial in reducing symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant GAD.
2. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique
When you need to calm down quickly in a stressful situation then focusing your senses on the immediate physical environment can enable you to ground yourself almost instantaneously.
In the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique 6, you are required to engage all your five senses one by one, starting with acknowledging five things that you can see around you and then four things that you can touch.
Following this, you try to listen to three sounds around you, then identify two smells. Finally, you need to acknowledge one thing that you can taste. This technique has been proven to help reduce stress levels to a significant degree.
3. Follow a healthy diet
Although food may not cause or cure anxiety, what we eat can certainly influence our mental well-being 7.
A 2019 study 8 found that diet can be considered a modifiable risk factor for psychiatric problems, like generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Consuming food high in sugar or fat 9, eating processed foods, and not eating enough 10 or at the right time may lead to unstable blood sugar levels and make us feel fatigued and restless.
This is why it is important to have a nutritious breakfast and healthy meals throughout the day. Consuming green vegetables and fruits can also help stabilize blood sugar and increase the hormone serotonin which regulates our happiness, mood, and feelings of well-being.
4. Get adequate sleep
Anxiety has been found to cause sleep disorders 13 like insomnia. Sleep deprivation in turn makes general anxiety disorder symptoms even worse 14, as lack of sleep reduces our capacity to cope with stress.
Since sleep disturbances are commonly linked 15 with generalized anxiety disorder, it is imperative that you practice good sleep hygiene and effective bedtime routines, like
- Avoiding screen time before going to bed
- Following a relaxation practice, like reading a book or meditating before sleeping
- Getting at least 7-8 hours of undisturbed sleep every night
Being well rested will help you stabilize your mood and emotions, make you feel calmer, and enable you to better cope with worry and anxiety.
Read More About Sleep Disorders Here
5. Avoid using substances
As people with GAD are at increased risk 18 for chronic alcohol dependence, it is crucial that you limit or cut off alcohol consumption in order to overcome the condition. It is also advised that you avoid recreational drugs as they can affect your treatment and recovery.
Studies 19 also show that people with anxiety disorders have increased caffeine sensitivity 20. Moreover, a strong association between chronic nicotine use 21 and anxiety disorders has been observed. According to a 2013 study 22, cigarette smoking may increase the risk of developing increased anxiety.
Thus, limiting your consumption of tobacco and caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks can also help significantly reduce your symptoms.
Read More About Addiction Here
6. Engage in physical exercise
Exercise 23 is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercising helps boost serotonin, which is involved in regulating our mood, and feel-good chemicals like endorphins.
Even as little as 30 minutes of regular physical activity 24 for 3-4 days a week can be beneficial for people with generalized anxiety disorder. Exercises can include walking, cardio exercises, swimming, running, dancing, or playing sports.
Studies 25 have found that exercise is a viable useful treatment option for anxiety. However, high-intensity exercise routines are proven to be more effective than low-intensity training routines.
Emotional Coping Strategies For GAD
Other than physical strategies, certain other techniques can also help you emotionally cope with generalized anxiety disorder.
1. Learn about the disorder
The first step to dealing with anxiety is to understand it. While your therapist might help you with the process and psychoeducation, reading and learning about generalized anxiety disorder can help you get more insight into your condition.
2. Know and identify your triggers
Since generalized anxiety disorder usually does not have any specific triggers 26, it may be difficult to understand when symptoms of anxiety are more likely to occur. Taking note of the events that usually make you feel anxious and trying to understand the pattern can help you better identify your triggers.
Mindfulness 27 refers to the practice of bringing our awareness and attention to the present moment. Mindfulness-based techniques 28 have been found to be quite useful in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Mindfulness 29 enables us to become aware of the present, instead of thinking about the past or the future.
It is a powerful yet simple coping strategy that can reduce the continuous flow of negative thoughts and worries. Research 30 shows that mindfulness-based interventions are becoming increasingly popular for coping with anxiety and depression due to strong evidence of efficacy. According to a 2010 study 31, mindfulness-based therapy is a promising and effective intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems.
Read More About Mindfulness Here
4. Maintain a journal
Journaling, or maintaining a thought diary 32 has been established as an effective technique to understand anxiety and to try and overcome it better. It is usually used as a homework assignment in cognitive-behavioral therapy and goes hand-in-hand with in-session work.
Social Coping Strategies For GAD
Social interaction is quite important when dealing with mental disorders such as generalized anxiety or depression. Sharing your concerns can often help you garner support for your emotions.
1. Confide in someone
GAD can often lead to unhealthy behavior patterns like social withdrawal. However, it is crucial to openly and honestly talk to a trusted person. It could be a family member, relative, teacher, coach, supervisor, or even a counselor.
Communicate your feelings, thoughts, and experiences with your loved ones instead of isolating yourself. Talking to others can even help you gain new perspectives.
2. Join a support group
Support groups help you connect and share your feelings with other people who might also be suffering from anxiety. Knowing that you are not alone in your struggles can possibly help you come to terms with them. Focus groups under the supervision of a professional can also aid in brainstorming and discussing solutions and coping skills.
3. Spend time with a pet
Studies 33 have found that human-animal interactions (HAI) can improve mental health conditions, mood, stress, self-reported fear & anxiety; and overall mental & physical health. Moreover, it has also been observed 34 that playing with dogs can also buffer stress responses.
According to a 2020 study 35, animal-assisted activities (AAAs) with a dog have been found to be effective in improving mood and stress. Other animal-assisted interventions 36 have also been established to be greatly beneficial for reducing anxiety.
Other Ways To Cope With GAD
Some other ways to cope with GAD are:
- Learning and practicing self-acceptance 37 and acceptance of negative experiences 38
- Systematically replacing negative emotions with more positive affirmations 39
- Viewing calming images and videos such as that of nature 40
- Using scents 41 and perfumes (eg: in candles or diffusers)
- Listening to music 42 or pleasant sounds 43
- Receiving physical affection (eg: hugs 44) from loved ones
Research 45 indicates that generalized anxiety disorder may be caused by a wide range of factors, like genetics, life experiences, etc. Thus, coping mechanisms are bound to differ based on the individual. It is possible that what works for one person may not work for others.
It could take some amount of time and trial and error for you to figure out which strategies work best for you. However, a generalized anxiety disorder can be overcome in the long run. Learning to identify and manage triggers, seeking help, and having a positive attitude can be quite helpful when trying to combat anxiety.
At A Glance
- Generalized anxiety disorder is a treatable condition that can be managed better and more effectively with certain coping strategies.
- Some physical coping techniques for GAD include practicing breathing exercises, following a healthy diet and sleep regime, avoiding the use of substances, etc.
- Knowing and identifying triggers, using mindfulness techniques, and maintaining a thought diary are some of the ways to emotionally cope with the disorder.
- Social methods of coping are equally important when dealing with an anxiety disorder such as GAD.
- Confiding in a trusted person, joining a support group, or spending time with a pet are some social ways to help cope with GAD symptoms.
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