Do you have GAD?
The stressors of daily life – work, relationships, finances, self-care – can quickly add up. How often do you find yourself saying “I’m so stressed” or “I’m so anxious”? Compounded with living through a global pandemic, many people have experienced poor mental health, anxiety and stress.
But when does day-to-day anxiety become bigger or something that requires treatment? Angela Casper, licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health services coordinator at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago offers some ways to distinguish if you or a loved one may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
GAD is defined by the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] as excessive worry and anxiety occurring more days than not for at least six months. These worries are not focused on a particular stressor, event or activity, and they can cause significant distress or impairment of a person’s social life or job performance.
“People often describe this type of anxiety as ‘free floating’ and that they can’t really pin down why they are feeling anxious at that particular time,” Casper said.
If you think that sounds like something you may be dealing with, you should pay attention to how often the symptoms are occurring and the degree of difficulty functioning because of them, Casper said.
“It is when we find we can’t do the things that we want or need to do that we are looking at a more clinical issue,” Casper said.
Casper also says that there has been an increase in GAD throughout the pandemic. “Some who may have presented initially with Adjustment Disorder due to the changes related to the pandemic, or anxiety around health, have developed more generalized and ongoing symptoms,” she said.
If you are dealing with GAD or looking to decrease your anxiety, here are some tips Casper recommends:
- Prioritize basic self-care activities and routines
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- Eat well
- Keep up with any medications
- Include regular relaxation practice (meditation, deep breathing, calming music)
- Regular physical exercise
- Acknowledging and expressing emotions
- Adopting an accepting and calm mindset or “self-talk”
Coffee consumption is another aspect to consider. Casper recommends limiting stimulant use — including caffeine and nicotine — for those experiencing anxiety, as they can trigger and increase symptoms. Check out this article for more tips on how to limit or eliminate caffeine.
If you are experiencing symptoms that align with GAD, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a behavioral health provider, social worker or therapist.
“Especially because all humans experience stress and anxiety throughout their lives, it can be easy for some to dismiss GAD as less serious or make assumptions about someone else’s experience,” says Casper.
With lifestyle changes and treatment, Casper says most people can recover and “manage their worry and stress much more effectively.”
Whether or not you have GAD, Casper offers some words of advice: “When we are faced with a lot of uncertainty and things outside of our control, it is important to focus on what we can manage,” says Casper.
About the Author
Anna Schapiro is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a background in public relations and communications and studied journalism at Northwestern University. When she’s not working on internal communications for the organization, she enjoys cooking, reading and living in Chicago.