What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders are mental disorders that are associated with fear and anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by persistent, extreme, and interfering worry. Usually, 30 is the median age for the onset of GAD, however, the condition can occur at any point in one`s life. Studies have shown that women are about twice as likely to develop GAD in their lifetime as men. This is mainly because women experience anxiety more frequently. That`s exactly why experts recommend routine anxiety screenings for women and girls aged 13 and older. Early detection of anxiety is key, as it may worsen over time if left untreated. Children also suffer from GAD, as it is among the three most common psychiatric problems they experience, following separation anxiety and social anxiety disorders. Children and teens who suffer from anxiety disorders at an early age are at higher risk of other psychological issues in adulthood.
People who have a generalized anxiety disorder worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations. They particularly worry uncontrollably about their finances. At other times, they just worry and are unable to say what they are worried about. This extreme, and sometimes, unrealistic worry can be disturbing and could interfere with relationships and daily activities. The common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, irritability, fatigue, exhaustion, muscle tension, sweaty palms, shaking, repeated stomachaches, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, and
neurological symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in different parts of the body.
Although anxiety is a common symptom of many mental health conditions like depression and various phobias, people who suffer from these conditions would usually worry about one particular thing, unlike those who suffer from GAD that worry about a number of different issues over a long period of time. Some can`t even identify the source of their worry.
The common causes of GAD are:
- childhood abuse
- a family history of anxiety
- recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations, such as personal or family illnesses
excessive use of caffeine or tobacco
How to Diagnose Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Your primary care provider can perform a mental health screening to diagnose generalized anxiety disorder. They will ask some questions about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. Depending on their findings, they may refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
There are also medical tests to ascertain if there is an underlying illness or substance abuse problem causing the symptoms. Common underlying causes are thyroid disorders, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and menopause.
In cases where a medical condition or substance abuse problem causes anxiety, some other tests may be required:
- X-rays and stress tests, to check for heart conditions
- blood tests, to check hormone levels that may indicate a thyroid disorder
- urine tests, to check for substance abuse
- gastric reflux tests, such as an endoscopy procedure to check for GERD, or an X-ray of the digestive system
How to Treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This treatment requires meeting with a mental health professional regularly to change the patient`s thinking and behaviors. This approach has been successful in creating permanent change in many people with anxiety. It’s particularly helpful to pregnant women and people who need long-term anxiety relief. At therapy sessions, they learn how to recognize and control their anxious thoughts and also calm themselves when upsetting thoughts arise.
There are short-term and long-term medication plans for people who experience GAD. Short-term medications relax muscle tension and stomach cramping, as well as some other physical symptoms of anxiety. Some common anti-anxiety medications are alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin). Usually, mental healthcare professionals try as much as possible to prevent patients from taking anti-anxiety drugs for long periods of time because such medications usually have a high risk of dependence and abuse. Antidepressants are the preferred medications for long-term treatment. Some common antidepressants are:
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox, Luvox CR)
- paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- buspirone (Buspar)
- citalopram (Celexa)
These medications can take a while to yield any obvious results and have side effects such as dry mouth, nausea, and diarrhea. There is also a low risk of increased suicidal thoughts in young adults at the beginning of treatment with antidepressants. It is important to report every mood or thought changes to your prescriber if you’re taking antidepressants.
There are cases when the doctor may prescribe both an anti-anxiety medication and an antidepressant. In such cases, the patient is advised to only take the anti-anxiety medication for a few weeks until the antidepressant starts working. Sometimes, taking the anti-anxiety medication will be based on need.
There are lifestyle changes that can ease some of the symptoms of GAD. Some of them are:
- regular exercise
- a healthy diet
- sufficient sleep
- avoiding stimulants such as coffee, diet pills, and caffeine pills
- talk with your spouse, a trusted friend, or family member about fears and worries
Alcohol and Anxiety
Although drinking alcohol can make one feel less anxious, it can have a negative effect on one`s mood. Within a few hours after drinking, one may feel more depression or irritability. Alcohol also interferes with the medications that treat anxiety.
How to Care for People Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Caring for people living with anxiety can be challenging, however, learning about the problem will do a lot in making it easier. As much as possible, loved ones and caregivers are advised to discourage avoidance and limit reassurance-seeking behavior.
If the sufferer is reluctant to seek treatment for anxiety or is unaware of the condition, you should find a quiet moment to have a non-judgmental conversation with them.
Some Facts About Anxiety Disorders
- Anxiety disorders can interfere with school work, job performance, and relationships.
- Anxiety comes with various physical and emotional symptoms.
- Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of anxiousness or nervousness because they involve extreme fear or anxiety, and lead to reactions that are out of proportion.
- Only about 1/3 of people suffering from anxiety disorders receive adequate treatment or counseling.
- Anxiety disorders can be a result of various factors such as trauma, stress buildup, withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, stress due to an illness, or family history of mental health issues.
- Approximately 8% of children and teenagers experience an anxiety disorder, and many of them develop the symptoms before age 21.
- People with generalized anxiety disorder experience irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, nausea, dizziness, worsening worry or fear, and chronic fatigue over extended periods of time.
- There are other common anxiety disorders such as specific phobias, selective mutism, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and social anxiety.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and will affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.
- Generalized anxiety disorder affects 6.8 million adults in the United States, with women being twice as likely to be affected as men.
- About 50% of Americans diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
- Eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are closely related to anxiety disorders.