Doing Life Together

african-american-883376_1920Tom noticed that he feels anxious most of his day. He can’t really put his finger on why, but tells me it’s an overall feeling. Tom suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

When someone feels a pervasive sense of anxiety on a regular basis, it can affect their work and health. One of the contributors to this feeling of overall anxiety called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is worry. Worry is the mental part of anxiety. And when we worry about something, we tend to avoid it, which only serves to reinforce that worry even more.

Why do people with GAD avoid the aversive thing they worry about? Because they think the consequence will be negative. They  just don’t want to think about certain emotional experiences.

People with GAD have these 4 issues when it comes to generating and regulating their emotional experiences:

  1. Emotions feel more heightened to a person with GAD than the average person. And that intense feeling can cause much anxiety. It’s scary and thus the person wants to avoid the feeling all together–enter worry. If I feel that emotion, I am going to feel something intense I don’t want to feel. That can’t be good!
  2. People with GAD have difficulty identifying what emotion is being experienced. They just feel anxious and have difficulty clarifying and understanding the emotion. And when you can’t label a feeling, it feels more out of control.
  3. When a person with GAD has an emotion, they tend to have a negative reaction to it. Often there are catastrophic beliefs around the consequences of having a negative emotion–something bad is going to happen. This is how worry is born.
  4. People with GAD have trouble managing or soothing themselves when they experience a negative emotion. They can’t manage it and begin to worry.

Worry plays a role in the problem of regulating emotions. Worry is the person’s attempt to suppress or control emotional experiences.. Here is an example: Let’s say you experience a loss and feel sad–a normal reaction to loss. But because you think that there is something negative about feeling sad-you may lose control, not be able to stop crying, etc., you try to avoid that feeling by worrying. Worry is a way to avoid that possible negative consequence. This takes a lot of time and energy. Rather than feel, you avoid and worry. This makes you feel more anxious and depresses your mood. Then the intensity of your reaction is increased and the anxiety feels even bigger.

So if you struggle with GAD, work on understanding and labeling your emotional life. Don’t be afraid of negative emotions. Rather learn to manage those negative emotions, not avoid them. You can feel something negative like sadness and not lose control. But it is important to experience those negative emotions and see that nothing terrible happens to you. If you continue to try and avoid negative feelings, worry will increase and more anxiety will develop. So face those fears rather than worry that something bad could happen.

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