What is it?
Everyone feels anxious from time to time; before meeting a deadline or delivering a presentation. But an anxiety disorder is a constant and exaggerated sense of worry that interferes with your daily life and interrupts your sleep.
People with generalized anxiety disorder tend to expect the worst when dealing with issues related to money, health, family, or work, even when there is no sign of trouble.
Who is Affected?
Each year, about 18% of the U.S. adult population has generalized anxiety (approximately 40 million Americans). Nearly twice as many women are affected than men.
Signs and Symptoms
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects the way a person thinks, but the anxiety can lead to physical symptoms as well.
Symptoms of GAD include:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- An unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- The need to go to the bathroom frequently
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Being easily startled
The exact cause of GAD is not known, but the following can be contributing factors:
- Genetics: Some research suggests that family history plays a part in increasing the likelihood that a person will develop GAD. This means that the tendency to develop GAD may be passed on in families.
- Brain chemistry: GAD has been associated with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are special chemical messengers that help move information from one nerve cell to another. If the neurotransmitters are out of balance, messages cannot get through the brain properly. This can alter the way the brain reacts in certain situations, leading to anxiety.
- Environmental factors: Trauma and stressful events, such as abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, changing jobs or schools, may lead to GAD. GAD also may become worse during periods of stress. The use of and withdrawal from addictive substances, including alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, can worsen anxiety.
Screening and Diagnosis
Generalized anxiety disorder is distinguished from normal worrying by its duration and how it affects your daily life.
If you’ve experienced intense anxiety and worry almost constantly for six months or more, you may have GAD. Persistent anxiety that affects you on a daily basis is considered a medical problem.
Your doctor will likely perform a physical examination and a psychological evaluation to rule out other anxiety disorders or medical problems that may resemble GAD.
The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are medication; (antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications) and psychotherapy, either alone or in combination.
Talking to a counselor or therapist can help you cope with the effects of generalized anxiety disorder.
You may find encouragement and understanding in an anxiety support group. Group members often know about the latest treatments and tend to share their own experiences.
Recognize and admit that you are experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
Become aware of your body’s symptoms and reactions to stress. Don’t let them scare you, let them talk to you.
Try to pinpoint what it is you are anxious about. If you can’t pinpoint it, don’t worry about it and move on.
Give yourself permission to feel anxious about whatever it is that is bothering you or causing you stress. “Of course I feel anxious about this problem, anyone would. But how much anxiety is too much?”
If you do know what it is that is bothering you, How can you help yourself reduce the unnecessary stress?
How can you react differently so you won’t be so affected by this situation?
Don’t fill yourself full of negative thoughts about certain situations. What could you say to yourself that would feel more comforting?
Change your reaction to the negative attitudes of others so that you will be less affected by them.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with “shoulds” and high expectations.
Take responsibility for yourself and make some positive changes.
Give yourself positive reinforcement for even the smallest accomplishments.