Tuesday, January 4, 2011

General Anxiety Disorder

I have been in a discussion with someone this week about anxiety and how she feels it on a daily basis, often needing alcohol to calm herself down. It reminded me of my own bout of anxiety-related issues during my early twenties. There is absolutely no doubt there is nothing scarier than feeling as though one is going to faint - especially when you are driving, or are in some other compromising position. Which, for me was driving on fast-moving highways and standing in lines. I know I have talked about this before in this forum, but I believe we are living in times where we are going to see more problems with nervous disorders.

I don't think this is rare in our world. We have plenty to be anxious about. All we have to do is turn on the news and read about all of those blackbirds falling from the sky in Arkansas. But what can we do to alleviate the symptoms? How can we deal with this debilitating issue?

There are different types of anxiety disorders, but the one I'm talking about today is GAD - or General Anxiety Disorder. It's symptoms are also very generalized, such as:
  • Restlessness or a feeling of being "keyed up" or "on edge"
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or a sense of your mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trembling, twitching, muscle soreness
  • Headaches, sweating or chills, nausea, dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Being easily startled
I think it's safe to say, we all experience at least some of these symptoms at some point in our lives. But what if we feel these symptoms most of the time? Do we have to take drugs to calm ourselves down? In some cases, especially when the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine are involved, that may be the case. But in my case, it was more a matter of getting myself out of a situation that made me feel trapped that eventually alleviated the symptoms.

Which is what this post is all about. I'm not a doctor, nor do I profess to know all the answers, but if you are feeling these symptoms, maybe you could try one or more of these coping mechanisms:
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing, and changing one's thinking patterns. Slow deep breaths, followed by replacing unwanted, scary thoughts with pleasant, calming thoughts. I use a mantra of all the things I have to be grateful for, which works for me when I have unwanted thought patterns.
  • Meditation - it has been scientifically proven that our brain chemistry changes during meditation, but that is a post in itself. Maybe my next one...
  • Exercise - single bouts of exercise, whether intense or not, has show to be of benefit for mental health hours afterwards.
  • Nutrition - stimulants, salt, preservatives, hormones in meat, and sweet, refined foods can all play havoc with anxiety. Soda water (not sodas - soda water) actually helps relieve symptoms, and foods such as whole grains, asparagus, garlic, wheat germ and many more help with the symptoms of anxiety. Not to mention making sure you have enough magnesium, calcium and B vitamins.
These are a few ways we can care for ourselves during difficult times. I think I'll do a post on all of the new science surrounding meditation at another time. The bottom line is we can do many things to make our lives more livable and reduce the stressful causes of anxiety. You may have a few ideas of your own. Care to share?


susan said...

GAD or depression? They seem to have similar symptoms and the problem with either is working up the energy to stay with the coping mechanisms that can help.

Your suggestions are all good ones.

Jen said...

I definitely think there are a lot of people who are medicated because they choose to take a pill instead of opting for coping mechanisms or changing their behavior. I am certainly NOT saying that all people do this- but being healthy inside and out has a lot to do with your environment and how you cope with stressors. I think good nutrition is key- it helps to balance the chemistry in your entire BODY- including your brain.

DJan said...

All your suggestions are good ones. Another one that I think is, for me, essential is to have someone to talk to about things. Someone who will listen without judgment and allow me to see things in a different way. Sharing my problems always helps me.

Brian Miller said...

nice..i can think of several that can use or relate to this or really anyonestruggling with anxiety...

Star said...

In the world we live in today, I think it would be unusual NOT to feel all those things. I also think that man is supposed to feel a certain amount of anxiety (fight or flight) but it is when it becomes a problem that we start to notice it and worry about it too much. I have felt those anxious feelings at certain times of my life and like you, I came to the conclusion that the only way to deal with it is to remove the source of the problem. However, suppose you can't. Suppose you are caring for an elderly relative. You can't go out, you can't leave them, you don't have enough money, you feel trapped. Then you need support from other people and I suppose you have to ask for it. Like D-Jan says, it helps to talk it over. At least then you don't feel like you're the only one dealing with those frightening feelings.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

This is where blogging helps, I think. People who feel anxious are often reluctant to talk to people they know about it. It may be easier to blog about it and discuss it with others who may be feeling the same things.

Your suggestions are excellent!

alaine@éclectique said...

Oh gosh, I've got GAD?! I tick all of those boxes but I have been practising long, slow breathing, particularly when I wake up at 2am. It does help. And I do agree with the exercise; I have better days when I walk for 30 minutes in the morning. I'm working on it!

California Girl said...

The quote by Arthur Roche fits me to a "T". I am a conduit for worry, anxiety, stress. Wish I were not but it has affected me all my life. Alcohol, medicine, yoga, meditation, exercise, etc. If I could stay on the latter instead of the former, I'd be in good shape. Right now I'm eating serious whole grains, root vegetables & mostly vegetarian. Alcohol is a problem. Your commentator, Jen, sounds like a typical young person, naive. She thinks it's so easy to just pick the right path. I was meditating 25 years ago. I started yoga 20 yrs ago. But, things change and sometimes you don't stay on the right path. Your suggestions are good and very appropriate. It helps.

Natalie said...

Great post, Nancy.

I attended a class for 12 weeks and some of the suggestions that were helpful were:

*While in the shower, imagine the fear /anxiety/sadness etc going down the drain and the water was healing as it cascaded down the body.

* Staying in the moment and being mindful. eg If washing the dishes then say to yourself ~ I am washing the red cup, the water is warm on my skin, the birds are outside my window etc. This discourages a wondering mind from finding anxiety again and again.

* Watch comedies because the endorphins produced from laughter change the brain chemistry.

* Ditto human touch / sex/ cuddles.

Nancy said...

susan - They are very closely linked, but different. Certainly anxiety can lead to long-term depression. I agree it is the energy to keep working at it that is the challenge.

Jen - Scientist's are discovering more and more how what we eat affects all the body's systems.

DJan - That is an excellent coping mechanism - without it we are isolated and feel alone, when in reality most of us feel these feelings on occasion.

Brian - I think there is going to be an explosion of people dealing with anxiety over the next few years. We are all going to know someone.

Star - Or go within - I think there are times when we need to practice being centered - before we need it. As you said - some people cannot escape what is producing the anxiety. The only coping mechanism is to go within and learn to adjust the body's responses to the stressors, and then use all the other mechanisms, such as nutrition and exercise when we can.

Trish & Rob - Blogging is wonderful for this, I think!

alaine - I hate to use labels because as soon as we label ourselves our body begins to accept and react to the label, if that makes any sense. Just keep working on being healthy - tell yourself how happy, fulfilled, loved, grateful, and beautiful you are. Even if you don't feel that way all of the time. The brain sends those signals out to the body, too.

California - I think for me it is a daily struggle to stay on the right path - it is a constant battle.

Pat said...

Sounds like good advice. I have trouble sleeping, but it's either due to menopause or sleep apnea. I'm going to get to the bottom of it soon!

Nancy said...

Natalie - I love all of those! Thanks for sharing.

Pat - I've had the sleep disorder test - very weird! Good to get to the bottom of it however, as it is now known that not enough sleep can lead to heart disease, among other things.

Lori said...

These are all great suggestions Nancy! I know that some people might need the medications but I think they are taken far too often when other things could help even more...things like you suggested here...other things that can help are laughter, talking to someone that listens without judgement, writing or journaling, massages or touch in general, getting sunshine and fresh air and making sure you are getting plenty of sleep.

I think you are right, we are going to see more people with these kinds of issues and I hope that they could find alternative ways to treat it then medication.

Nancy said...

Lori - You make some great points - especially fresh air and sunshine - so important to good mental health. It is suggested that we make contact with the earth each day. Walk barefoot, etc.

Linda Myers said...

Been there. Every day when I wake up and I'm not there still, I feel grateful.

Finding out I'm not alone in my worry or anxiety is VERY helpful.

Nancy said...

Linda - I agree - thank goodness for the blog world in that respect. :-)

Nancy said...

I have this. I don't take medication for it and alcohol would surely make it worse as does caffeine. The only thing that helps me is exercise and lots of it, also a low carb low sugar diet because hypoglycemia feels alot like anxiety and a hypoglycemia attack can trigger an anxiety attack.
If I get at least 20 min. walk in on my treadmill I am a happy camper.

Reya Mellicker said...

I just wrote about the blackbirds, too. Can't stop thinking about them. It's so creepy.

I'll keep breathing, though. Thanks.

Miss Sadie said...

Bear suffers from Chronic Depression and something called "Chronic Adjustment Disorder," which sounds very much like GAD — as do the potential remedies.

When he comes out of hibernation, I'll try to get him working on these, again.

Thanks for your post.

ellen abbott said...

all good sensible approaches. in fact, it's just healthy living. I guess you could say that unhealthy living causes anxiety.

I was in a women's group once where we met once a week with a facilitator to discuss our problems and ways to alleviate them. I had already learned the value of controlling my thoughts...replacing bad ones with good ones. It has to be a conscious effort at first, refusing to entertain the bad ones when they try to dominate your mind. I tried explaining it to one woman once to no avail. she was convinced she didn't have control over her thoughts. and that's key I think. so many people don't believe they control themselves but are rather victims of the world at large. first you have to shed the victim mentality, step up to the plate as it were. but people are lazy. they don't want to make the effort. they want instant nirvana and so they give up their control.

Lindz said...

Thank Gob Jen got me started on flavored soda water so many years ago! I have been struggling with the blues lately (could be the Oregon weather) but yesterday felt an immediate relief after working out. Nick always says I'm happier when exercising and having "relations" regularly ;)

Nancy said...

Nancy - Exercise releases so many good endorphins, it is essential to good health.

Reya - I know! The story keeps getting creepier with all of the fish.

Miss Sadie - Thank you so much for dropping by and letting us know he is not alone in this.

ellen - You make so many good points. I do believe we can control our thoughts. But remembering that you have to replace the depressing thoughts for the brain to acknowledge a change. I use a mantra of all that I'm grateful for from fresh water to a nice towel that sometimes goes on all day if I'm feeling particularly negative. But you can control your thoughts! And of course, your body follows your thoughts. Great comment, thanks.

Lindz - Spoken like a true newlywed! LOL! But you have a point actually, organism releases all sorts of really good stuff and also allows for great exercise. I just found out about the soda water. Both of my daughters do not do well without regular exercise. One gets melancholy and one acts out. Can you guess which is which?

Grandmother said...

As a retired psychiatric nurse I thank you for posting this and agree that what you recommend are GOOD interventions for GAD. If all else fails, see your doctor for a trial of meds to alleviate the symptoms. But try the recommendations first!

JeannetteLS said...

Marvelous topic. Until things got beyond my ability to sort, meditation, SELF-talking (as in, being kind outloud and calming myself as I would an anxious child I love), usually worked. And incredibly intense exercise. While I am profoundly limited in my ability to do the exercise, I still meditate and talk. And DJan's comments on talking to others is well-taken. My counselor is wonderful, too, but finally, IN MY OWN CASE, both my doctor and she said, "Honey, time for medication. It is not a crime, but your circumstances involve unremitting crisis and stress, and your chemistry could use help."

That's the thing with the people who have helped me--they knew me well enough to know when I had crossed a line that required help. WE reach for meds in our culture too easily, but it's also true that sometimes we refuse to recognize that it is not a sign of "weakness" or lazy habits to use what medical science has to offer.

It can be so hard to know the difference, hence removing isolation I agree is key. If one hasn't the friends, then developing an honest relationship with a professional can be key. Of course, it costs money. But I had a doctor who recommended yoga/meditation. He's a DO. And a counselor who truly pays attention.

Anxiety and depression are entwined. I have been grateful this time around for medical help. And because, in my case, medication turned out to be necessary, I have NOW found it more effective when I exerice, meditate AND try to talk. I am thinking more clearly. I needed medical help once before in my life--when my daughter died.

I appreciate, Nancy, that you did not discount medicine... but the OTHER coping strategies are so very crucial as well, even if you have medication! THEY are what will allow me, as things get a little more settled, to gradually have the opportunity to leave the medication behind once again. It will be interesting to follow your blog on this.

And blessings to YOU, too.

JeannetteLS said...

Sometimes outside stressors can be too large, too long-lived for the accustomed methods to stave off the chemical component. Anxiety and depression can chemically stimulate one another. This last year I was in such a situation, and meds have helped me effectively revert TO my meditation, talking to others, breathing, resting. However, HAVING those practices as my long-term coping mechanisms will be the practices that will ultimately allow me, probably, to leave the meds behind again. I also have a counselor and Primary care DO who KNOW ME. Who could follow subtle behavioral changes, who paid attention to the chaos and pain. That matters. I am very, very lucky.

This is an important topic and I will follow it with great interest. I'd have been lost ages ago without the meditation, breathing, talking...

Blessings to you, too, Nancy.

Nancy said...

Grandmother & Jeanette - Thank you so much for your input on this subject, and to remind us all that medication is sometimes part of a long-term healing process.

Linda Pendleton said...

Very good ideas, Nancy. :-)
I believe proper diet, exercise, and creative activities do wonders.

Deborah said...

You're doing a good service by posting this, Nancy. These suggestions seem quite useful and reasonable. I only once experienced a kind of acute and inexplcable anxiety and wouldn't wish it on anyone.