Everyone worries about things like money, family and health. However, someone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) becomes extremely worried about these and many other things. Generalized anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder that consists of chronic nervousness, worrying and tension. People with GAD worry even when there is little or no reason to be worrying. They are often extremely anxious about simply getting through the day, because they think something will happen to cause their day to go bad. For someone with GAD, the worrying interferes with their daily activities.
What is the Difference between “normal” Worrying and GAD?
Fear, doubt and worry is a normal part of life. It is completely natural to be anxious and nervous about an upcoming job interview or to worry about the finances if you have an unexpected bill. The differences between generalized anxiety disorder and “normal” worrying is that for someone with GAD, worrying is:
For example. After watching a report on the news about a possible terrorist attack, the average person will typically feel a brief sense of uneasiness and worry. Whereas, someone with generalized anxiety disorder will be up all night worrying and continue worrying for several days, about what could happen if their town experienced a terrorist attack.
Cause of GAD
General anxiety disorder comes on gradually and can occur at any time during life, however, the highest risk is typically between childhood and middle age. Women are twice as like to be affected by GAD. Although there is no known exact cause for GAD, evidence has shown that life experiences, family history and biological factors may play a part in the diagnosis.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
The primary sign of generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worry about a variety of everyday problems for a period of 6 months or longer. The symptoms of GAD fluctuate; they are better and worse at certain times during the day or the worry is more intense for certain situations. Stress does not cause GAD; however, it can increase the symptoms. It is important to note that not everyone has the exact same symptoms, but the majority of people with GAD do experience a combination of the following behavior, physical and emotional symptoms.
- Putting off things because of feeling overwhelmed
- Unable to enjoy quiet time or relax
- Avoiding situations that make cause anxiousness
- Difficulty focusing and/or concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Body aches
- Muscle tightness
- Feeling edgy
- Difficulty swallowing
- Problems sleeping
- Trembling and twitching
- Feeling lightheaded
- Stomach problems
- Shortness of breath
- Hot flashes
- Intrusive thoughts about a variety of things that make you anxious and cannot stop thinking about them
- Constant worries running through your head
- A continuous feeling of dread or apprehension
- Feeling as though the anxiety is uncontrollable
- Unable to tolerate uncertainty
Diagnosis of GAD
Many people with GAD will visit their physician several times before they are diagnosed with the disorder. The person may go to the doctor for help with problems sleeping, headaches or other symptoms of GAD, but they do not typically express all of their physical or emotional concerns all at once. For this reason, the doctor will only treat the underlying symptoms or the physical symptoms as opposed to the treating the disorder. It is extremely important to be open and honest with your doctor about your fears and excessive worry as well as the physical symptoms you may be experiencing.
Treatment of GAD
Fortunately, like the other anxiety disorders, general anxiety disorder is treatable. It is typically treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. Alternative treatments, such as relaxation techniques, yoga, mediation and/or exercise are also beneficial and may be included in the treatment plan.
There are two types of medication that are typically used to treat generalized anxiety disorder; anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. Anti-anxiety medications usually start to work right away; however, some are very addictive, so they should not be taken for long periods. Although antidepressants are used for treating depression, they are also beneficial in the treatment of GAD.
Antidepressants typically do not begin working until about 2 weeks to 1 month after you begin taking them. It is extremely important to discuss all of the possible side effects of antidepressants with your doctor and make sure to let your doctor know about any other medications you are currently taking.
Cognitive behavior therapy, a form of psychotherapy, is quite beneficial for the treatment of GAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches the individual various ways of behaving, thinking and reacting to a situation in order to help them feel less anxious, fearful or worried.
Understanding the Worrying
In order to get the most benefit out of your treatment, whether it be medication, therapy or a combination of both, it is important to understand what worrying is. Although the worrying may be triggered by an outside factor, such as money or a disaster, the anxiety is actually coming from the inside. In other words, once you begin to worry, you are in a sense talking yourself into being afraid or convincing yourself that negative effects will happen. The situation runs through your mind, over and over, and each time you think about it, the “what ifs” worsen until you become anxious and fearful about what “might” happen. Once you learn the most effective way for you to stop focusing on the “what ifs”, you will be able to deal with the anxiety in a more productive way. Learning to deal with the anxiety includes learning to relax, calm down quickly and possibly making changes in your lifestyle.
When your body becomes anxious, it is experiencing a fight or flight reaction to a possible threat. During the flight or fight response your body experiences a range of physical changes, such as pounding heart, breathing faster, feeling light-headed and muscles tensing up. So, when relaxed your body will experience the complete opposite; slower heart rate, slow, even breathing and relaxed muscles. When you have generalized anxiety disorder, learning relaxing techniques is critical to overcoming the anxiety. Some of the most common relaxation techniques include:
- Deep breathing-breathing deep from your diaphragm will help to reduce the faster breathing that comes with anxiety.
- Meditation is beneficial for reducing anxiety and giving you an overall calming feeling.
- Progressive muscle relaxation helps to relax your muscles and prevent them from tensing up when you become anxious.
To obtain the optimum benefits of deep breathing, mediation and/or muscle relaxation you have to practice regularly. Try to make time for at least 15 to 30 minutes each day. The more you do these techniques, the more your body will be able to relax, your nervous system will be less reactive and you will reduce your vulnerability to stress and anxiety.
Life Style Changes
When you maintain a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle it can help to reduce the symptoms of GAD. Taking care of yourself is important and committing to changes in lifestyle will help to reduce the anxiety. Some of the ways to start living a well-balanced lifestyle include:
- Healthy eating habits-eating healthy meals, starting with a good breakfast will give you energy, level out your blood sugar and help reduce the irritability. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water.
- Reduce your sugar and caffeine intake-caffeine and sugar can both interfere with your sleep and too much sugar can make you feel physically and emotionally drained. Try to cut back on drinking soda, coffee and tea to ensure you are getting the rest you need at night.
- Exercise is one of the best things you can do to reduce the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. Try to get about 30 minutes of exercise each day, whether it is going for a walk or doing aerobics, you will notice a relief in the tension and get a physical and mental boost.
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol-it is common for someone with GAD to try to relieve their symptoms with drugs and/or alcohol, but it can lead to dependence and they do not have any benefit for reliving the symptoms of GAD, in fact alcohol, nicotine and drugs will only increase the anxiety.
- Get enough sleep-when you are sleep deprived it reduces your ability to handle stress. Try to calm down and relax before bedtime by taking a warm bath and/or reading.
Generalized anxiety disorder can often be a debilitating disorder; however, when the anxiety levels are low, someone with GAD will be able to function socially. However, it is common for people with GAD to avoid certain situations in order to prevent the anxiety. Unfortunately, when a situation is avoided to prevent the anxiety, the anxiety and worry increase as a result of missing the event. The sooner treatment is sought, the quicker you will begin to learn how to control your anxiety.