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Sitting on the bus, something I have done a thousand times at this point. Same stops, same people, pretty much the same driver. The environment around me hasn't changed and the day has started similarly to every other day. But today... today I can't seem to breathe normally. Shallow, swallowed, and paused. I start over. Breathe slower and deeper. I can't get control over my breathing. I feel my body stress and my mind starts to get involved.
"C'mon, c'mon... get it together. You sound funny and are starting to act strange. People will think"... Insert any negative society view.
My legs tighten, my shoulders raise and now, I feel exhausted. My eyes are tired and sore. My legs cramp and toes curl. My breathing speeds up. The stress of money, my career choice, dating all swirl into a negative tornado and what I thought was true becomes twisted. The solid plans made are no longer plans but mistakes mashed together. Stressing about never having enough financially and the biggest piece, doubting relationships. Do they care or do I matter to them? It leeches in like rainfall into a crack in a wall and eventually comes pouring through. Is any of it logical or factual? Usually not at all.
Above was just a quick glimpse into how this hits. It can be anytime, anywhere for every reason or none at all. I get into fight mode and look for my routes to safety. I never had a label for this until university and never understood why I always felt tired. Then, out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with GAD.
What is GAD?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), is classified as the "persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things (2018, ADAA)." These consistent worries and perseverance on family, relationships, work, finances and other issues which can range from the mundane such as getting off at the right stop or as existential as our purpose. I add these last two because other things is a very hollow way to show the range of worry that is available.
Symptoms for a person tend to be as follows:
- Nervousness, irritability, or a feeling of being on edge
- A feeling of danger, doom, or panic
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Gastrointestinal issues
When an individual has had three of these symptoms for up to six months and it is affecting their daily life, a diagnosis is made.
This is where it is a little different. Depending on the level of anxiety, medication may be used. Most of the time, a therapist is consulted to improve an individual's awareness and ability to cope when feeling escalated. There is no permanent fix unfortunately. Implementing and honing skills learned in therapy can help improve a person's quality of life and allow them to restore some control when the above symptoms present themselves.
On a personal note, it will and can be frustrating to find root causes or triggers. This will take some time to figure out while seeing a therapist. Once it is, implementing strategies that work best can be difficult but well worth it. Eventually, it will get to a point where more often than not, GAD can be reduced prior to it fully setting in.
Personal Coping Pieces
Some things I have added in when feeling a little too much is communicating with partners and friends what is going on in a subtle manner. If it occurs in a busy or loud area, I would normally opt for three quick hand squeezes to let them know, hey things aren't going well. With friends, asking for a minute means they stick by but allow me some time to get my breathing back in sync before we continue.
The biggest piece is when you are alone and may not have that support system around to lend a hand. Using the Jacobson's Method, clenching and releasing muscles, allows for my body to relax and not feel as tense. By focusing on contracting and releasing my quads or shoulders it decreases activation and allows for calming to take place. It is a very in the moment activity and in a sense moves the mind from worry to the actions needed.