Understanding and Identifying Anxiety

Have you ever felt like your mind is constantly filled with worries? Maybe you feel like you are playing a game of whack a mole with your worries - as soon as you get one down, another one pops up.

There may be a particular experience that came up for you as you were reading that, or maybe you read that and said “that’s the way I feel all day everyday.” Or maybe you fell somewhere in between, where you could point out many experiences like that, but it’s not quite an all day everyday occurrence.

Anxiety is part of the human experience and to some degree we all feel it. Everybody worries, but when you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder worry becomes excessive and is very difficult to control.

Anxiety is likely a big part of why you are alive today. It’s the voice of warning that says there is danger ahead. It may be what prompts you to look both ways before crossing the street or to make sure your stove is off before going to bed. With generalized anxiety disorder, this alarm system is overly sensitive. It causes you to see danger almost everywhere. The things you used to be able to do without thinking twice feel overwhelming, because your mind is telling you all the ways that it could go wrong. For some people, this leads to an almost paralyzing sense of fear, which often gets in the way of an individual's ability to function. This often shows up as avoidance and procrastination. When everything feels like a threat it can be hard to do anything, but worry about all the ways things could go wrong.

Another way generalized anxiety disorder can impact behavior is to cause a heightened need to accomplish things. It may feel like your value and worth rely on your ability to achieve. Often individuals with this form of generalized anxiety disorder are functioning in life, but still feeling a high level of anxiety and overall dissatisfaction in life. For these individuals relief doesn’t come after they accomplish a goal, because their mind finds new worries or is busy criticizing them for all of the ways they weren’t good enough at accomplishing their goals. Generally, this form of anxiety eventually begins to impair an individual's ability to function in everyday life. The worries start to become too consuming to be able to accomplish goals which leads to even more self criticism. 

If you are reading through this article and finding yourself relating to some of these experiences and themes, it may be valuable to get a consultation with a mental health provider familiar with anxiety based disorders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are evidence based treatments for generalized anxiety disorder. There is hope and treatment to help you gain freedom from the never ending game of whack a mole you’ve been playing with your worries. 

Amanda Gibb, LCSW

Amanda is a specialty therapist for obsessive-compulsive related disorders and anxiety disorders. She is trained in exposure with response prevention, ACT, and DBT skills.

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