Challenging Anxiety during an Anxiety-Inducing Time
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. It can play a very functional role in helping individuals identify and prepare for danger. While anxiety is an essential human feeling, some people struggle with excessive worry that may lead to a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). According to the DSM-5, GAD is defined as “excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities.” Other criteria include the person finding it difficult to control the worry and having at least three symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep disturbance. Whereas some anxiety can be tolerated, when there is an anxiety disorder, the anxiety will cause clinically significant distress or impairment.
Oftentimes, individuals with GAD will have anxiety in response to distorted, exaggerated or irrational thoughts. For example, a client may catastrophize a relatively small mistake, such as forgetting to send an email, and fear it will have dire consequences, such as being fired. In therapy, I will help the client recognize the catastrophizing going on and challenge the thought causing the anxiety. In this example, therapy would aim to help client recognize that the fear of getting fired is causing the anxiety, but it is not a rational concern in response to the actual mistake that was made. The client would be encouraged to consider real facts that help them better understand the consequences of their mistake. For example, remembering that a colleague made a similar mistake last week and simply sent an apology in their follow up email to correct the situation can help alleviate the anxiety. Furthermore, remembering that the client received a promotion last week, as evidence that they have been doing a good job can help offset the worry. Real, rational evidence tends to be the most convincing at dismantling distortions that stir up anxiety.
But what happens when there are very real anxiety-inducing situations going on? How do you help someone with GAD when it feels like there really is a lot to be worried about? This has been a very common question in 2020, with so much uncertainty going on on a very large scale. Health-related worry, job insecurity and inability to see family and/or friends are just a few examples of the many scary things going on during the coronavirus pandemic. Read on for a few ways that therapists help clients with GAD confront these worrisome thoughts during an overwhelming time.
- Focus on what you do have control over. Often, anxiety stems from a feeling of being out of control. Even during this pandemic, when much has been outside of people’s control, there are plenty of things to focus on that are very much within the control of an individual. For example, create a daily routine that serves you – consider including movement and meditation in the routine. Focusing on what is within our control helps to offset that feeling of out of control-ness that causes much anxiety.
- Pay attention to facts rather than opinions. As described earlier, distorted and exaggerated thoughts to be a huge source of anxiety. As cities enter different stages of reopening, many different people have so many different opinions. It can be overwhelming to hear the different opinions of others. These opinions will likely fuel anxious thought patterns though they are not any more based in reality than your own distortions may be. Instead, focus on what you know to be true – facts delivered by the CDC, the WHO, government recommendations, and/or a reliable news network (while remaining mindful that these sources have their own opinions mixed in).
- Reframe your thoughts. This is a very powerful cognitive behavioral tool that helps with all anxiety disorders and can be particularly helpful during this time as well. For example, instead of feeling “stuck at home”, consider how different you might feel if you think “I am safe at home.” Instead of focusing on the shortcomings of working from home instead of in the office, focus on feeling grateful to have a job and being able to do it from home. Reframing your thoughts into healthier, more positive versions can have a dramatic effect on how you perceive your situation and therefore how you feel about it.
Therapists at Gateway to Solutions are offering teletherapy sessions and are available to help you deal with anxiety, whether its related to the current times or anything else.