Also known as chronic anxiety neurosis, people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder or GAD, worry unrealistically and their worries are usually out of proportion for the situation.
WHAT IS GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER?
To understand “what is generalised anxiety disorder,” it is essential to note that it is different from other feelings of anxiousness. While it is not uncommon to worry and feel anxious at times about things happening in your life, a person suffering from this anxiety disorder may worry about similar things obsessively several times during a day, and it can last for months.
This excessive worrying happens even when there are no clear reasons to do so, and the person suffering is often aware of the fact that there is nothing for them to worry about or feel anxious about. Nevertheless, people with generalised anxiety disorder symptoms have a tendency to expect the worst possible outcome. They cannot help themselves from worrying about their family, health, finances, school, or work.
Ultimately, GAD can begin to dominate a person’s life and thinking to the extent where he/she might feel difficult to carry out their day-to-day tasks at work or school. They might even find it troublesome to do routine things to maintain their relationships.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS?
For mental health conditions like depression and phobias, anxiety is the common symptom. However, generalised anxiety disorder differs from these mental conditions in many ways.
For example, people with depression might feel anxious on certain occasions, and those with a phobia are worried about a particular thing.
But, people with GAD tend to worry about more than one thing or topic, and they do so for a long period, usually 6 months or more. And, sometimes, they even might not find the source of their worries.
SYMPTOMS OF GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER
Generalised anxiety disorder symptoms can vary. It affects the way you think and can also lead to physical symptoms. Following are some of the more common symptoms of GAD:
- Excessive and constant worry and tension.
- Feeling of restlessness and being on edge.
- Indecisiveness along with a fear of making a wrong decision.
- Impractical view of problems.
- Feelings of impending doom.
- Feeling cranky.
- Having difficulty handling uncertainty.
- Faster breathing and heart rate.
- Frequent headaches.
- Having difficulty concentrating.
- A feeling of nausea.
- Needing to go to the bathroom frequently.
- A feeling of fatigue.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Having trouble swallowing.
- Trembling and being easily startled.
It is worth mentioning here that people with generalised anxiety disorder can have other anxiety-related disorders as well like, panic disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD, clinical depression, and substance abuse.
CAUSES OF GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER
GAD is caused due to a complex interaction of biological and environmental factors. These might include the following:
- Changes in brain function and chemistry.
- Differences in the way of perceiving threats.
- Personality and development.
The factors given below increases the chances of developing GAD:
Anyone who has a timid personality or tries to avoid anything that might involve risk might be more susceptible to GAD than any other average person.
Generalised anxiety disorder might even develop in an individual if he/she belongs to a family that has a history of anxiety.
An individual who has a history of traumatic or negative experiences as a child or has recently gone through a traumatic event is at an increased risk of developing GAD. Chronic mental health disorders or medical illnesses can also increase the risk.
HOW IS GAD DIAGNOSED?
The diagnosis is made with a mental health screening that only your primary care provider can perform. They will ask questions about the symptoms, and for how long have you had them. They might refer you to a mental health expert, like a psychiatrist or a psychologist, who can move ahead with the best treatment for generalised anxiety disorder.
Your doctor might even decide to do some medical tests to figure out if there are any underlying illnesses or problems with substance abuse that might be the cause behind your symptoms. Anxiety can be linked to:
- Thyroid disorders.
- GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Menopause, and
- Heart disease.
In case your care provider has any suspicions that there is a medical condition or substance abuse problem that is causing anxiety, they might perform more lab tests like blood tests for checking your hormone levels that might give an indication of a thyroid disorder, urine tests for checking substance abuse, X-rays and stress tests to check the condition of your heart, etc.
The doctors base their diagnosis on reports that show the intensity and duration of the symptoms. This might also include any problem with daily life that is a result of the symptoms.
The doctor will then determine whether you have a specific anxiety disorder or GAD. In order to be diagnosed with GAD, the symptoms should interfere with your daily life and be present for at least 6 months.
TREATMENTS FOR GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER
Once it is confirmed that you have no medical conditions, you will be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist. They will provide you with the most effective generalised anxiety disorder treatment. Treatments for GAD usually include a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT and medication. You should also remember that your daily habits can have an influence as well.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY
This form of generalised anxiety disorder treatment has successfully shown results and has created long-term changes in a majority of people suffering from anxiety.
The method involves meeting and talking with a mental health expert on a regular basis. The goal of it is to alter the way you think and behave. During the sessions, you will get to know the following:
- Ways of identifying and controlling your anxious thoughts.
- How to keep yourself calm when anxious thoughts arise.
You might be prescribed medications with CBT to treat your GAD even more effectively.
Medicines can help alleviate your symptoms of anxiety, although they are not a cure. The group of drugs that is most often used for generalised anxiety disorder treatment in the short term (as they might be addictive, sedating, and can also interfere with attention and memory) is called benzodiazepines. They are sometimes called “minor tranquilizers” or “sedative-hypnotics” since they can remove sudden and intense feelings of anxiety.
They reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety which include restlessness and muscle tension. Following are some of the common benzodiazepines:
- Chlordiazepoxide Hcl
(NOTE: These drugs might increase any effects of sedation when they are combined with other drugs, and they can be dangerous if and when mixed with alcohol.)
Certain antidepressants can be prescribed as well, like fluoxetine, sertraline, duloxetine, paroxetine, Escitalopram oxalate, and venlafaxine. They can be used for treatment for longer durations and might take a few weeks to kick in. However, they are much safer and suitable for long-term treatment of generalised anxiety disorder.
HERE ARE SOME LIFESTYLE CHANGES THAT ALLEVIATE THE SYMPTOMS OF GAD
Like many others suffering from GAD around the globe, you too can get relief from the symptoms by adopting the lifestyle changes mentioned below:
- Staying away from alcohol and drugs.
- Working out regularly, sticking to a healthy diet, and getting sufficient sleep.
- Practicing meditation and yoga.
- Limiting the intake of stimulants like caffeine and some over-the-counter pills like diet and caffeine pills.
- Sharing your feelings with your spouse (if you are married), a close friend, or a family member regarding your worries and anxieties.
AND FINALLY…. LET’S LOOK AT SOME OF THE PROBABLE WAYS OF GAD PREVENTION
An anxiety disorder like generalised anxiety disorder cannot be easily prevented since there is no way to predict what might cause someone to develop it. However, there are specific measures that you can take to lessen the symptoms, like:
GETTING HELP AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
Just like any other mental health disorder, anxiety can become difficult to treat as time goes by. Talk to your doctor if you like that you are anxious more often than not. He/she can refer you to a mental health expert.
MAINTAIN A JOURNAL
If you maintain a journal, it will become easier for you to keep track of your life and can also help your mental health expert in identifying what makes you stressed and what makes you feel better.
A lot of your anxiety can be reduced if you can efficiently manage your time and energy.
AVOIDING SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Abusing drugs and alcohol or even using nicotine and drinking too much coffee can lead to or worsen GAD or any other anxiety disorder for that matter. This is evident when you are addicted to them. When you try to quit, it makes you feel anxious.
If you feel that it is becoming too much for you to handle while trying to quit, do not waste time and see a doctor. You can also seek a treatment program or join a support group.
If you suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, it is, in fact, possible for you to get relief from the symptoms if you seek professional help and proper treatment in time.
However, remember that your symptoms might come and go, especially during stressful times. Hence, sticking to your treatment plan is essential, which might include therapy, medication, or both. Do not shy away from consulting with your doctor and therapist when you feel that the symptoms are coming back.