Do you find yourself feeling anxious or tense all day for no real reason or worrying excessively about things that are unlikely to happen? Well, everyone gets anxious from time to time, but if your fears and worries are so constant to the extent that they interfere with your ability to relax and function, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is not only physically exhausting, but mentally exhausting as well. It wears your body out, interferes with sleep and generally drains your energy. The good news, however, is that you can break free from the cycle of constant worrying and learn to get a grip of your anxious mind.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined as a common anxiety disorder that entails chronic tension, nervousness, and worrying, which can often be very similar to panic disorder symptoms. Unlike phobias where fears are connected to a specific situation or thing, generalized anxiety disorder is often diffuse i.e. a general feeling of unease or dread that colors one’s entire life. The anxiety is usually less intense than that experienced when suffering a panic attack, but lasts much longer thus making relaxation impossible and normal life difficult.
If you are afflicted by GAD, you may have the same worries as other people, difficulties at work, family problems, money, health issues, but you are likely to take these worries to a whole new level. For instance, a phone call to a loved one that is not immediately returned may lead you to believe that that person in some sort of trouble or your boss’s careless comment about the state of the economy may become a vision of an imminent pink slip coming your way soon. Sometimes just the thought of how you will get through the day may get you anxious such that you end up going about your activities filled with exaggerated tension and worry, even when there is nothing to suggest so. The bottom line is that you are unable to turn such anxious thoughts off as they keep running through your head- endlessly.
The symptoms of GAD often fluctuate- you may notice worse and better times of the day, or worse and better days in general. And while stress cannot be cited as a cause of GAD, it can exacerbate the symptoms. Not everyone with this condition experiences the same symptoms although most people with generalized anxiety disorder experience a combination of physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms. Broadly speaking, these symptoms are as follows:
- Physical symptoms- These include:
- Feeling jumpy, restless, or edgy
- Feeling tense; experiencing body aches or muscle tightness
- Nausea, diarrhea, stomach problems
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much because your mind will not stop racing
- Behavioral symptoms- These include:
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating on things
- Avoiding situations or circumstances that bring about anxiety
- Inability to be alone, enjoy quiet time, or relax
- Postponing things as a result of feeling overwhelmed
- Emotional symptoms- These include:
- Pervasive feelings of dread or apprehension
- Constant worry
- Intrusive thoughts about what causes your anxiety- you may try to ignore such thoughts but it is almost impossible
- Deeming your anxiety uncontrollable i.e. there is little or nothing you can do to stop worrying
- A fear of uncertainty- you always want to know what will happen in the future
While the exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder remains unknown, there are a number of factors that appear to contribute to its development. These include:
- Environmental factors
Stressful events, such as the death of a loved one, changing schools or jobs, divorce, abuse, and trauma may lead to GAD. In addition, the condition may become progressively worse during periods of stress. The withdrawal from and use of addictive substances, including nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, may also worsen anxiety.
Research continues to show that family history may also play a part in increasing the chances that a person will develop generalized anxiety disorder. This, therefore, means that the tendency to develop this affliction may be passed on in the family setting.
- Brain chemistry
GAD has been linked with the abnormal functioning of some nerve cell pathways that connect particular sections of the brain that are involved in emotion and thinking. These nerve cell linkages depend on chemicals referred to as neurotransmitters that send information from one nerve cell to the next. It thus follows that if these pathways linking certain brain sections do not run efficiently, problems related to anxiety and moods are bound to arise. Psychotherapies, medicines, or other treatments that are known to tweak these neurotransmitters may improve the signal transmission between the circuits thereby helping to alleviate symptoms related to depression or anxiety.
The two most prominent treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are medications and psychotherapy. If you are found to have no physical illness, you are likely to be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist- medical professionals specifically trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses such as this. More often, however, treatment for GAD includes a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication.
There are several types of medication used in the treatment of GAD including but not limited to busiprone, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. Remember; always consult with your doctor about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of these.
This is an anti-anxiety medication that may be used on an on-going basis. And as with most antidepressants, it usually takes several weeks for it to be fully effective.
Antidepressants- including those in the serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) classes- are often the first-line medications in the treatment of GAD. Examples of such antidepressants include duloxetine (Cymbalta), escitalopram (Lexapro), and venlafaxine (Effexor XR).
In certain circumstances, a doctor may prescribe sedatives to relieve anxiety symptoms, but only for the short term as these can be habit-forming. Examples of such sedatives include Xanax, Valium, and Niravam.
Also referred to as psychological counseling or talk therapy, psychotherapy involves working with a therapist in an attempt to reduce anxiety symptoms. It is a highly effective treatment for GAD. Alternatively, cognitive behavioral therapy is also widely acknowledged as an effective form of psychotherapy which focuses on teaching specific skills that aid GAD sufferers to gradually return to the activities that they have been avoiding because of anxiety. Through the process, you are likely to notice that your symptoms will improve as you keep building on your initial successes.
- Herbal Remedies & Relaxation Techniques
Although this treatment method is often overlooked, it can be extremely effective as both a short term and long term solution. For example, specialized mental and breathing techniques can be used to quickly reduce worries and tension before it gets out of control, while anxiety reducing herbs can help aid you in fighting anxiety by soothing your body and calming your mind, hence making you feel more relaxed and reduce tension.