General Anxiety Disorder is Big But Fits in a Box
To have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is to worry -- a lot. While true, this is an oversimplification. “Worry” doesn't really begin to describe what happens in GAD. Everyone worries; it’s part of being human. It’s a given that people will worry about their grade on a test, for example, worry about their job security when downsizing is taking place, or worry about their child’s safety when he or she is away. But with GAD, the worry becomes too much -- all-consuming, really, and typically isn't limited to a single situation. Rather than having worries in one’s life, for someone with GAD, life itself is a constant worry.
In GAD, the brain is forever on alert. It watches for threats, and because it’s on the prowl for them, it finds them everywhere.
Have you ever been interested in a certain type of vehicle, something that seems new and different to you, but once you are aware of it you start to see it everywhere? That’s what worries are like for a brain with GAD; but being alert to perceived dangers and threats and worries is far more burdensome than being alert to a type of vehicle.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Can Seem to Overtake Us
Burdensome GAD symptoms are indeed. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, delineates criteria in addition to excessive worry, that must significantly disrupt one’s life and be present (at least three of the following, for at least six months) for a diagnosis of GAD:
- Restlessness, being keyed up, or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating or the mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep problems
Basically, GAD is all-consuming, controlling thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As with all anxiety disorders, GAD can seem like it has a choke-hold on us. It can feel frightening because at times it doesn’t seem like we are in control of our own life, our very being (How to Stop Thinking About Your Anxiety).
GAD Can be Shoved Away into a Box
The very good news is that no one is doomed to forever live with GAD and always be ruled and controlled by it. We truly can regain our power. In the following video, I discuss one single, simple technique that has been proven to be an effective tool for getting rid of anxiety.
The tool involves a box (or a bag or other such container). A problem with GAD is that worries take over the entire mind, and they don’t go away. With this technique, an approach that shares similarities with Guatemalan worry dolls, you gradually begin to place specific worries in a mental box to make room in your brain for other thoughts and feelings.
This isn’t my own invention, but instead is a technique used in many different therapeutic approaches. I’ve used it, and it works (but it takes practice). I invite you to tune in to the video for more information.
Peterson, T. (2014, August 21). General Anxiety Disorder is Big But Fits in a Box, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/08/general-anxiety-disorder-is-big-but-fits-in-a-box
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
What if you don't even know what you are worried about? Or the problems you had are solved but the anxiety switch won't turn off?
You can still use this technique,it is incredibly powerful and yet so simple. It more or less saved my life. I just imagine a box, any colour, shape, material you like and I put all my worries in it. Not to be forgotten but just to think about them later and not now. So if you're not sure what it is you're worried about, put your "unsurenss" into the box. Also mindfulness is fantastic for this and there are some really good free downloads online for 10 minute meditations. Good luck!
Hi Sally Annie,
Thank you so much for being part of this conversation and sharing your experiences with this technique. I think that your thoughts will be helpful to many. I'm very glad that this has worked so well for you!
Your question is common and very legitimate. Anxiety can often involve vague, nagging worries, and that kind of worry is as difficult as any other and can be hard to address. SallyAnnie is right on that you can put "unsureness" into the box, too. You just want to move your anxiety, no matter how specific or vague, into that container to make room for other thoughts and feelings. It's not something that works immediately because anxiety is so strong, but with practice it does work for many people. Do know that everyone is different, and there isn't a single technique that works for everyone. What one person finds helpful another might not. The key is to give techniques a chance -- and time to work -- and either keep using them or move on to something different. Whatever you do, don't give up because anxiety truly can be conquered.