Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone experiences anxiety – before a presentation or a first date, when a loved one is ill. A certain amount of anxiety is perfectly normal and may even keep us more motivated. However, a problem arises when anxiety gets out of hand and begins to interfere with daily life.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by uncontrollable or excessive worry, thinking or dwelling. People who experience GAD often fear the worst, even when those fears are irrational. A person with GAD might obsessively worry about health, money, family or work. However, for some, there is no particular source for the anxiety. The inability to control worry is simply with them all the time.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Research supports that GAD is likely caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain which alters a person’s ability to handle stress. These imbalances can be inherited or passed through generations. However, not everyone who suffers from an anxiety disorder has a family member who has also suffered from the disease.

Environmental factors also play a role in the development of GAD. Life’s stressful events, a death, loss of job, financial struggles, in combination with a person’s physiological make-up most often lead to the development of anxiety disorders. As stated above, however, an individual may suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder without a pre-occurring stressful event.

What are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by both mental and physical symptoms. GAD can co-occur with irritable bowel syndrome, depression, substance abuse or other anxiety disorders. Often, individuals will visit their doctors numerous times with physical symptoms related to GAD without pinpointing anxiety as the cause. It is important to communicate with your doctor if you are suffering from anxiety along with a physical ailment, so the best course of treatment can be prescribed. Symptoms will most often begin in childhood or adolescence, however they can develop in adulthood as well.

Symptoms of GAD:

  • Excessive or chronic worry, lasting for six months or more, that is unfounded or not triggered by one specific object or situation
  • Continual anticipating of disaster
  • Inability to fall asleep or waking often in the night
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trembling
  • Twitching
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating or hot flashes

What are the Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is most often treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Research shows that some anti-depressants are effective in treating anxiety disorders, as they act on the brain chemicals that cause both depression and anxiety. There are also specific anti-anxiety medications that can be prescribed.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most commonly used form of psychotherapy to treat GAD. A trained therapist will help an individual change thinking patterns that lead to the anxiety. The therapist will train the individual in new ways of thinking to help the person “turn-off” the anxious and ruminating thoughts. The behavioral aspect of this kind of treatment seeks to change an individual’s reaction to anxiety-provoking situations. The therapist will work with an individual to learn the appropriate ways to behave in stressful situations to cut-down on the anxiety associated with them.

How Common is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Yearly, about 2.8% of the U.S. population or four million people suffer from GAD.

Additional Resources

Guide to Feeling Better
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Recovery Network of Northern Kentucky

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