Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - Understanding the condition and how to treat it
Published Dec 27, 2019 • By Michael Barnes
Everyone gets anxious from time to time; it’s a normal part of everyday life. But, sometimes anxiety turns into a monster, consuming a person’s thoughts, energy and even causing stress-related illness. How can you tell the difference between “normal” anxiety and chronic anxiety, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD? Read on to discover the symptoms of GAD and how to treat it.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Most people worry about specific things for specific reasons: an upcoming exam at school, a tough assignment at work, or a moody teenager at home. But, for someone suffering from GAD, there is no one source of their worries; they feel worried or anxious all the time, sometimes for no reason at all. The tension and stress may be so severe that a patient has a hard time remembering the last time they felt at peace.
What causes GAD?
The exact causes of GAD are not yet known. But researchers theorize that the condition may arise from a combination of factors including:
- Brain chemistry
It is estimated that GAD affects 1 in every 25 people in the US, touching more women than men and more younger and middle-aged adults (35 to 55) than seniors.
What are the symptoms of GAD?
GAD eats up a patient’s mental energy. Common symptoms include:
- Excessive and uncontrollable worry or anxiety
- Blowing problems out of proportion: worrying about everything no matter how small the issue
- Feeling restless or on edge nearly all the time
- Irritability, or short temper
- Difficulty concentrating and completing tasks
- Insomnia and fatigue
Sometimes GAD also manifests in physical symptoms:
- Muscle tension
- Stomach ache or diarrhoea
- Heart Palpitations
People with GAD often suffer from other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), clinical depression or phobias. Attempts at self-treatment with drugs or alcohol may lead to problems with substance addiction as well.
When to seek help?
If your anxiety is unrelenting or feels uncontrollable, seems to be detached from any specific reason to worry, or is negatively impacting your personal and/or professional life, you may want to speak to your doctor.
Before you go to your appointment, be sure to note any physical or psychological symptoms you’ve been experiencing and for how long. Make a list of any external stress points including personal conflicts, problems in your work life, substance abuse, or health issues. All of this information will give your doctor a fuller picture of your overall mental and physical state and help them determine whether your anxiety is due to external stress or if it can be attributed to GAD.
Your doctor may order additional procedures such as blood tests to rule out conditions like anemia or hyperthyroidism.
What kinds of treatments are available for GAD?
Anxiety has its place in the normal range of human emotions and can often be useful, spurring us to action or telling us if something is wrong.
The ultimate goal of treatment for GAD is not to eliminate feelings of anxiety altogether, but rather to bring those feelings down to a manageable level that allows the patient to live normally again.
If your doctor determines that you have GAD, they will most likely refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, or they may recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), also known as “talk therapy”.
If therapeutic treatments don’t seem to work, you may be prescribed medications including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)-type antidepressants such as Sertraline,
- Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI)-type antidepressants such as Venlafaxine,
- Pregabalin – an anticonvulsant found to be beneficial in treating anxiety,
- Benzodiazepines – a class of sedatives (such as Xanax) used only as a short-term anti-anxiety treatment due to the risk of dependency
If you’re being treated by a psychiatrist, they may prescribe a combination of therapy and medication.
In addition to the traditional treatments mentioned above some sufferers of GAD have found it beneficial to incorporate physical activities and diet changes into their daily routine. Yoga, going for a daily walk or jog, or doing breathing exercises may help you to relax. You may find avoiding stimulants or mood-altering substances like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine to be helpful as well.
Finally, in the US there are support groups for people living with GAD that can arrange face to face or group meetings to provide guidance and emotional support. Ask your doctor about local groups or check out these links for more information:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA)
- Mental Health America
Carenity and GAD
You will find discussions and advice on anxiety and anxiety treatments in Carenity’s patient forums. Why not visit the forum and post your questions about or experiences with generalized anxiety disorder? Your words could help you and others get the support needed to successfully battle GAD.
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