Anxiety is not an uncommon experience. Anticipating medical test results, experiencing relationship difficulties, and preparing for public speeches, are all circumstances that could result in substantial levels of anxiety. As we’ve previously explained, however, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), characterizes a specific condition in which the anxiety doesn’t subside after stress-provoking events have passed. It persists, consistantly, and applies to every facet of daily life such as health, finances, relationships, work, etc. In this post, we would like to review three common difficulties associated with GAD, in an effort to help you identify whether you or someone close to you might be struggling with this or a similar condition.
Common Signs and Difficulties Associated with GAD
Intolerance to Uncertainty
Individuals who suffer from GAD struggle greatly with “the unknown.” In fact, they cannot tolerate it. Given that many events in life are uncertain, this logically causes severe, ongoing distress. An intolerance to uncertainty could take the form of constantly entertaining “what-if’s” – i.e. what if I fall ill and can’t work, what if my partner leaves me, what if my child fails their school year, etc. etc. In response to what if’s, GAD sufferers could either spin their wheels in torment, visualizing the worst case outcome of every scenario, or begin formulating contingency plans to be ready in case the worst happens. For example, “if my son fails his school year, I will get him a summer tutor.” Proceeding to research viable tutors might follow in this example. There is nothing wrong with being proactive in life, although searching to solve problems that don’t yet exist, or investing in the resolution of worries that are unfounded, is indicative of a greater problem. Most individuals are uncomfortable with the unknown, but intolerance in the case of GAD, involves an inability to function on account of life’s countless uncertainties.
External Locus of Control
This point is somewhat related to the previous one as it characterizes a lack of control. One of the reasons uncertainty is so difficult to accept, it the consequent lack of control it implies. Individuals with an external locus of control, find themselves at the mercy of external events – feeling helpless in their capacity to manage or deal with anything negative that should arise. An internal locus of control, on the other hand, implies the ability to search for and arrive at logical solutions when faced with hardships, instead of denouncing our ability to influence our circumstances. In the context of “what ifs,” an external locus of control could exacerbate anxiety by implying that when the worst happens, one will be unable to handle it.
Finally, catastrophic thinking or “catastrophizing,” involves either exaggerating the negativity of adverse life events, or employing a future-oriented negative bias for what bad things may happen based on previous unfortunate events. An example of the former case can be found in the embellishments of those individuals for whom everything seems like the “end of the world.” Or those who seem to find themselves in a perpetual downward spiral, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel (recall the external locus of control here). This isn’t to say that these individuals are making mountains out of molehills – they may actually be dealing with mountains; i.e. significant adversity, but they maintain an attitude that insists their circumstances are insurmountable, and that their problems, though potentially grave, are even graver. An example of future-oriented catastrophizing could be found in the anxious student who fails a test and goes on to believe they will fail the entire class, flunk out of college, and never get a job. The basis of catastrophic thinking involves adopting a strict negative bias and struggling to envision more positive alternatives.
Though still misunderstood by many, anxiety can be genuinely debilitating. If you or someone you know might be struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out. We could help you overcome intolerance to uncertainty, loss of control, and catastrophic thinking. We could help you move past your limiting anxiety and get back to being yourself.