I’m asked all the time … “Does this recovery method apply to GAD?”
The short answer is that it does, but there are extra wrinkles with GAD that we must be aware of. We must learn to relate in a new way to anxiety and the symptoms and thoughts that come with it. This is the same way we approach the other anxiety disorders. However, we also must be aware of the meta beliefs and thinking habits that drive anxiety. Knowing how your beliefs and habits fuel your anxiety is the first step in changing those habits. We cannot really address GAD effectively unless we also address these underlying issues.
So can you recover from GAD this way? You can, but there’s extra work for you to do, so let’s talk about it in this episode.
GAD OFTEN FEELS LIKE:
- Being constantly anxious and worried.
- Simmering background anxiety with no clear trigger.
- Feeling agitated and on edge, as if something is wrong.
- Always-present anxiety symptoms .
- An inability to “turn your brain off”.
Most people with GAD will tell you that they’re not afraid of their anxiety, and that they’re not avoiding things. They’re going places, doing things and they don’t avoid. So why doesn’t it go away?
“I don’t know why I’m anxious. I just can’t get rid of it.”
That’s the key right there: “I don’t know why I feel this way.”
DOING LIFE, BUT FUELING ANXIETY WHILE YOU DO IT
You’re still out doing things and living your life, but HOW are you living your life? You may not be in avoidance mode, but you are likely in threat detection, problem solving, overthinking, and worry mode. You’re doing the things, but you’re doing the things while engaged in habits that fuel anxiety and all the sensations and thoughts that come with it.
While you don’t fear the anxiety like a person with panic disorder might, you do fear it in the sense that you’re desperately trying to get rid of it. Fear comes in different flavors.
“If I wake up tomorrow, anxious again, I’m gonna lose my shit.”
Well, that’s fear. Anticipating it before it ever happens, creating more of it.
GAD RELATED TRAITS AND LABELS
People with GAD often identify themselves based on their thinking habits:
- “Worrying makes me a good person”.
- “Worrying proves that I care”
- “I’m perfectionist – I have to get it right.”
- “I’m a fixer. I fix things, for everyone.”
- “I’m a caretaker. Good people are caretakers. I take care of people and things.”
This indicates a meta belief that thinking is an effective way to do almost everything. You see thinking as your primary way to detect and decipher threats, and to cope with life in general. You attach importance on thinking. Thinking keeps you safe and ahead of the curve. Thinking helps you fulfill your destiny as a perfectionist or loving worrier or caretaker, right?
This leads you into a bad place. You’re trying to know the unknowable, see the future, predict, plan everything, control everything. But you can’t. When you see a problem that you think you can solve by thinking and then you can’t, it becomes a double-unsolvable problem. Now you have multiple compounding problems. What do you do when you have a problem … you think! See where this is going?
Here’s where we get into the important part about GAD – the drivers, habits, and behavioral/cognitive habits and traits that drive and create anxiety. Many people suffering with GAD are not even necessarily aware that they are engaged in these habits. You’re doing the things, and you have no triggers, but you’re anxious all the time and can’t figure out why.
This is why!
People with GAD often wear labels like badges of honor:
- People Pleaser
- Over thinker
- Over planner
- Hyper responsible
Everybody has some component of these in their personality, but for people with GAD those traits and habits become elevated to a much higher degree. There are some positive aspects of these traits and habits. But like anything else, things like doing a good job or caring for others are great until they get disordered, distorted, and twisted. THEN these are problems.
You have to learn to take a different and more nonreactive stance toward the feelings of anxiety, as opposed to living your life and doing the things while hating and trying to get rid of how you feel. “I hate this! I don’t understand why it’s there.” You’re constantly focused back on yourself and how it feels. And “why why, why, can’t I get rid of it”. You’re gonna have to get rid of that behavior, and start to break those cycles.
HOW DO WE APPLY RECOVERY PRINCIPLES TO GAD?
You have to work on changing your reaction to the anxiety itself, learning to relax into it, rag doll, learning to put your brain into idle mode. Focus away from your symptoms. Just let them be there without trying to solve them. This looks very much like what we would say to someone with panic disorder or agoraphobia.
With GAD, the other thing you have to focus away from is the thinking process itself. We do that by moving our attention and focus OUT of the thinking cycle and in to outside activity. “Instead of going over this worry for the 10,000th time, I’m going to make lunch now.”
Work on gently changing your focus away from the problem solving, the worrying and ruminating to other places. This will make you uncomfortable. Abandoning your beloved thinking habits will feel reckless, unsafe, unkind, or irresponsible. This is OK. You can tolerate the discomfort of not thinking. You’ll feel uncomfortable for a while, but then nothing bad happens. You’ll handle everything that does come up, even though you didn’t think about it for 72 hours ahead of time. That’s how you learn.
“I’m going to do a crossword puzzle instead of checking my work report for the 77th time before I hand it in.”
If you’ve ever asked me, “What is my exposure with GAD?”, this is your exposure. Exposure to being uncomfortable, unsure, vulnerable, reckless, irresponsible when you abandon your anxiety driving thinking beliefs and habits. We go toward this discomfort and fear, everything still winds up OK, and we learn that we do not have to problem-solve at all times to be safe or to validate who we hope we are.
A TYPICAL GAD DISCUSSION
Here is a typical I might have with someone working on GAD:
“At 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, when the world expects you to be working, I want you to take 15 minutes, turn off your phone and do nothing but read your favorite book or listen to your favorite music for 15 minutes, just for you, for no other reason in the entire universe than it’s pleasurable to you.”
“But then I’m not solving problems. I’m not getting stuff done. I’m not taking care of things?”
“No, you’re not. Right now you’re just reading or listening to music for fun for 15 minutes. Your attention will be drawn back to the thinking, worrying and planning over and over, you just have to gently keep moving it back to the book or the music again.”
“But, if I don’t think about this, everything’s gonna fall apart!”
“Well, you kind of have to let everything fall apart. Go ahead, let it – and then you’ll start to see that it doesn’t.”
CHANGING YOUR BELIEFS AND THINKING HABITS MEANS CHANGING YOUR BEHAVIOR
You may be wondering how you can change your beliefs about thinking, and all your old thinking habits. You change your beliefs and break old thinking habits by ACTING. First change your behavior. The changing in thinking will follow.
What I’m telling you here is not easy work at all. But it’s okay for it to be hard work. You can do hard work!
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