Everyone experiences worry or stress from time to time. Going for a job interview, giving a public speech and taking a test at school are all normal sources of stress. However, persistent and extreme worry or anxiety that interferes with everyday activities might be an indication of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
The cause for this anxiety disorder is likely a combination of genetics, biology, lifestyle and environment. It is frequently found in people with other mental health conditions, particularly depression and substance abuse. It is also more common in women than in men.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD is characterized by unrelenting worry and anxiety. The focus of the patient’s worries may be small concerns or larger, more stressful issues. Anxiety symptoms include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Trembling, twitching or shakiness.
Because of this chronic anxiety, people with GAD are often fatigued and irritable and may experience muscle soreness or tension.
Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A patient may be diagnosed with GAD if he or she has been experiencing extreme bouts of worry most days of the week for at least six months. The physician may perform a complete physical examination and review of the patient’s medical history. This is done to rule out a physical ailment and determine whether another mental health condition is also present along with GAD.
Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Because GAD involves some of the same brain chemicals as those involved in depression, people with GAD are often prescribed antidepressants. Physicians may also prescribe a benzodiazepine, an anti-anxiety drug that alleviates acute symptoms of anxiety.
Treatment may include psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy. The aim of this therapy is twofold. One goal is to teach patients how to recognize and change the thinking patterns that lead to chronic worry. The other goal is to show patients how to change their reaction when faced with situations that normally induce worry.
Often, sufferers find success with a combination of medication and therapy. With either method, working with a medical professional is a great start to addressing the problem.
Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Joining a support group has been a successful coping therapy for many GAD patients. These groups provide an outlet for discussing treatment progress and symptoms as well as hearing what has worked for others.
Confronting the source of anxiety is another way to cope with GAD. For example, a patient who worries about financial problems may be able to head off anxiety by planning a budget. Additionally, recognizing when anxiety is building and forcing the mind to another activity, such as reading or going for a walk, is a helpful coping mechanism for many patients.
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/generalized-anxiety-disorder/DS00502.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2009). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.shtml.
University of Maryland Medical Center. (n.d.). Anxiety disorders: Causes. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/mentalhealth/ancauses.htm.