Are you an expert at anticipating the worst case scenario? We all worry about things, but generalized anxiety goes above and beyond ordinary worry and can be both mentally and physically exhausting. At its worst, it can escalate to causing panic attacks. You may realize your worrying is excessive, but feel powerless to stop it from happening. In many cases, generalized anxiety can significantly impair your ability to function. It can develop slowly over time and is often more noticeable during times of high stress. If your anxiety is impacting your relationships, your performance at work or school, or your ability to maintain daily life, it’s likely time to talk to a mental health professional about it and take action.
If you are experiencing a level of anxiety or worry that feels unmanageable, we can help. We offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for individuals looking to break the pattern of needless worrying with evidence-based techniques. CBT focuses on specific tools to interrupt the cycle of worry allowing you to spend more time engaging in other parts of your life!
This is the paradox of general anxiety. We feel more in control when we stop to consider all the ways that things could go wrong. It makes sense (in theory). “If I can see it coming, I can prevent it from happening right? Or at least prevent myself from feeling caught off guard or surprised by it? Right?… Right?”
Wrong (unfortunately)… By spending more time considering all the ways things could go wrong, we don’t actually feel more in control. We feel more tense, more anxious, more scared of the stories we tell ourselves. But it’s a hard habit to stop on your own.
Anxiety often develops in adolescence and can be worse or better at different points over the course of your life. If you grow up in a traumatic, unpredictable, or emotionally abusive household – then anxiety starts early for you out of sheer necessity. This can lead to developing symptoms of Complex PTSD depending on just how unpleasant or unpredictable home life was for you.
If childhood was relatively smooth, but you went through some major life changes and stressors in early adulthood – your anxiety may have started then too. For example, it can often come up during transitionary periods in life such as starting college, getting married, or having children. Or perhaps (if you’re a little lucky) you haven’t struggled with anxiety for most of your life and you’ve only noticed it coming out since going through a major life change such as moving out of state, starting a new career, or getting a divorce.
However anxiety began for you, you’ve probably noticed by now that there’s often an ebb and flow to it. It’s worse when you’re under stress and things are happening. It’s less noticeable when things are running smoothly for a minute. Or perhaps you’ve noticed you’re no longer getting those “breaks” anymore and you’ve found yourself just “waiting for the other shoe to drop” even when things are going relatively well. This is when anxiety can be particularly frustrating because it has the potential to rob you of your ability to relax and enjoy your life even when you have every reason to!
Generalized anxiety disorder can dominate three main aspects of daily life – how you think, how you feel, and what you do.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, you’ve probably noticed that it’s like an unending loop. It starts with a worry, “What if…” What if I get fired? What if I go broke and can’t support my family anymore? What if my wife doesn’t want to be with me anymore and she leaves me?
The cycle always starts with a worry. A worry is nothing more than a story you tell yourself about how things could possibly go wrong. The only problem is 1) unless you have a crystal ball, you can’t possibly predict the future with any certainty and 2) you will FEEL as if it is CERTAIN, even if you’re worried it’s a possibility.
Imagine telling a child “We might lose our home.” Notice the word “might.” It’s an important word. However, if you were to tell a child this, they would begin to experience all the feelings as if it were actually going to happen – perhaps even tomorrow. They would feel scared and sad, unprepared, maybe helpless. Their mind and body wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between “We might lose our home” and “We’re going to lose our home.” Unfortunately, your adult body can’t tell the difference either. So the more your mind runs through all the possible worst case scenarios, the more your body is forced to go along for the ride and feel as if each of those terrible things were actually happening right now.
The other common element of anxiety that makes it particularly difficult, is the never-ending feeling of “I wouldn’t be able to handle it if…” With generalized anxiety disorder, it’s common to underestimate your ability to cope with problems, stressful situations, or specific uncomfortable emotions. Ironically, this type of thinking seems to persist even if you have handled really difficult situations in the past. With generalized anxiety disorder, you continue to worry, despite evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, the more we tell ourselves we couldn’t possible handle something, the more we worry about it happening – thus keeping us stuck in the worry cycle.
This is why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is considered one of the leading treatments for generalized anxiety disorder. In order to break the cycle of worry, we can teach you to organize your thoughts and examine the evidence to come up with more realistic expectations – instead of always expecting the worst. But it doesn’t stop there. A key element of CBT for GAD is that in order to actually believe the new thoughts, we’ll need to come up with a plan to help you test them out in action – so you can see for yourself.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, we place a lot of focus on understanding the cycle of thoughts and behaviors that keep you stuck. With worry, there’s a number of different beliefs and reactions that help to maintain the cycle of anxiety. Here’s a few…
With CBT, we can help you learn specific strategies to challenge these patterns and help you to unhook yourself from the cycle of worry. We commonly work with clients on skills such as learning to unhook from a spiral of worrying thoughts, relaxation exercises, emotional processing, and problem solving.