Just about everyone feels anxious every once in a while. Especially nowadays, stressful situations seem to be commonplace. But if you find yourself in a constant state of anxiety and worry that interferes with your daily activities, you might be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Generalized anxiety disorder can develop in people when they’re young or at any time in adulthood. It will have similar symptoms to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder, but it is an altogether separate medical condition.
People with GAD will incessantly worry about things for a long period of time but will be unable to pinpoint exactly what they are worried about. The National Institute of Mental Health defines GAD as “worry about a variety of events or activities that occurs more days than not, for at least 6 months.” And the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 3.1% of the United States population is affected by GAD in any given year.
Symptoms of GAD can vary from person to person. But many of the most common symptoms include the following;
- Persistently thinking about plans, solutions, and worst-case scenarios
- Constantly worrying about things in your life that have no significant effect on your life
- Believing a situation is a threat even when it isn’t
- Afraid of making the wrong decision, indecisive
- Unable to handle uncertainty
- Not able to let go of worry
- Always feeling on edge, unable to relax
- Unable to concentrate
Symptoms of GAD might also present as physical signs. These include:
- Muscle tension
- Easily startled
Generalized anxiety disorder is a long-term condition in which worries may be constantly shifting from one area of your life to another.
Many primary care providers might ask you a set of questions to determine whether or not you have GAD. To receive a more thorough analysis and accurate diagnosis, it is recommended you see a mental health professional instead.
In order to rule out any underlying illness, or a substance abuse disorder, that may be causing your symptoms, a doctor might administer other tests. Conditions that can bring about anxiety-like symptoms include thyroid disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heart disease, and menopause.
There are several widely touted treatments for anxiety. Many individuals with GAD have found the most effective method for treating anxiety is incorporating a combination of techniques into their life.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The methodology of CBT is that by recognizing your thoughts, you’re able to change them and thus change your behavior. When initially diagnosed with GAD, this form of treatment should be first in line, especially for pregnant women who should be careful of any new medications.
A lot of CBT involves meeting with a mental health professional on a regular basis. In these sessions, you will be given assignments that allow you to identify events in your life and the thoughts and emotions that are associated with each circumstance.
In addition, there are support groups, in-person and online, for those practicing CBT where individuals can share what has and hasn’t worked for them. Many have found long-term relief from anxiety using CBT.
Many with GAD have found that by changing certain habits, they’re able to change the way they act and their attitude toward life in general. New habits include:
- Meditation, yoga
- A healthy diet and regular exercise
- Avoiding stimulants like coffee or supplements like diet pills or caffeine pills
- Talking with close friends, spouses, or family members about worries
Alcohol: The Cure and Cause of Anxiety
Many people with GAD will drink alcohol because it can almost immediately make you feel less anxious. And since it works so well why not keep doing it?
Unfortunately, the next day, after a night of drinking, it can cause you to feel more irritable, depressed, and anxious. Which can set off a cycle to seek more drinking to again get rid of the anxiety. And it can be extremely dangerous if you are taking medication for your GAD. Mixing these with alcohol can greatly increase the severity of your psychological symptoms and in some cases be fatal.
Your primary care physician might want to start prescribing medication for your GAD, but it is still best to first consult with a mental health professional first. A therapist or psychiatrist can help you decide whether a short-term or perhaps a long-term medication plan is right for you.
Short-term medications are generally benzodiazepines. They can address symptoms of anxiety, like muscle cramps, stomach cramping, and panic attacks. These include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
These are powerful medications that should only be taken for a short period of time because there is a high risk of dependence and abuse.
Long-term medications, called antidepressants, include:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Buspirone (Buspar)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
These medications may take up to several weeks to start working and can have significant side effects like nausea, dry mouth, insomnia, and diarrhea. Many people choose to stop taking the medications because of such side effects.
These medications can also cause suicidal thoughts in young adults and in people with a substance abuse problem.
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