0191 262 0305
info@anxiousminds.co.uk

Blog

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Occasional worrying about health, money, relationships, and other things is natural and a normal part of life. 

But for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), these worries become all-consuming.

People with GAD worry about everyday things even when there’s no apparent cause for concern. In some cases, just thinking about getting through the day can trigger anxiety.

This excessive worry can cause certain physical symptoms and can interfere with daily life.

How Common Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder affects 2.7 percent of the U.S. adult population in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And it’s about 50 percent more common in women than men.

Realizing you’re not alone may be one of the first steps you take toward dealing with your anxiety.

“The first thing I do is tell patients that treatment is out there and it does work. And then I tell them that I’ve seen this a lot, which makes them feel better,” says Beth Salcedo, MD, the medical director of The Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington, DC, and the past board president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

What Are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder can cause numerous psychological symptoms, including:

  • Excessive worry about everyday things
  • Restlessness and inability to relax
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep issues, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Irritability
  • Feeling that everything will turn out badly

These issues may be accompanied by a number of physical symptoms, such as:

  • Muscle tension and muscle aches
  • Fatigue

Age may affect the kind of symptoms you experience. According to a study published in February 2018 in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, patients with generalized anxiety disorder who were older than 65 tended to have trouble sleeping and more depression than patients younger than 45.

The kinds of worries differed as well: older patients worried about their health and their family, while younger patients worried about their future and the health of others.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The exact causes of generalized anxiety disorder are unknown. Risk factors for GAD may include:

  • Genetics Anxiety disorders are known to run in families. 
  • Brain Structure and Activity Researchers believe that differences in the areas that regulate stress and anxiety may contribute to the disorder, according to the NIMH.
  • Traumatic Events Experiencing trauma, such as childhood abuse, may trigger the condition. 
  • Chronic Health Conditions Having a chronic medical condition may increase the risk of GAD, notes Mayo Clinic.

Women who are pregnant may also experience generalized anxiety disorder — and possibly experience it at a higher rate than the general population. It’s estimated that 8.5 to 10.5 percent of women will suffer from GAD during pregnancy, and that 4.4 to 10.8 percent of women will have it postpartum, according to a study published in September 2013 in the Journal of Women’s Health.

If you feel that you’re suffering from generalized anxiety disorder during this time, it’s important to talk with your doctor about symptoms and whether you need treatment. Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of taking medication, if that becomes necessary. 

How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

As with other anxiety disorders, there’s no specific test to diagnose generalized anxiety disorder.

Your doctor may conduct a physical examination and order blood tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

A diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder is based on both your psychological and physical symptoms.According to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria, you have GAD if you’ve had difficult-to-control, excessive worry — more often than not — for at least six months, and experienced at least three of the following six anxiety symptoms:

  • Restlessness or edginess
  • Becoming easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating, or feeling as if your mind has gone blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep issues

Your symptoms must also be severe enough to impair your ability to go about your daily life, and must not be due to substance abuse or other disorders or health issues.

What Is the Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The two main treatments for GAD are psychotherapy and medications.

Your doctor may prescribe a combination of treatments. 

Therapists often use an approach called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, to treat generalized anxiety disorder. This popular form of therapy, which is used for a variety of psychological disorders, helps people identify, understand, and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).

Your doctor might start you first on an antidepressant to help with your symptoms, and tell you that it may take four to six weeks to start feeling the effects, says Ken Duckworth, MD, the chief medical officer for NAMI and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Antidepressants are a first-line treatment for GAD.Benzodiazepines should only be prescribed for a short time. Unlike antidepressants, they can become addictive even after a short period of time, according to NAMI.

Deep-breathing exercises may also help. Exercising, too, is important in treating and managing anxiety, even as anxiety may make you less inclined to want to workout. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that according to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety in some people.

Among the benefits, according to Harvard Medical School: moving your body decreases muscle tension; upping your heart rate can change your brain chemistry, increasing the availability of anti-anxiety neurochemicals; and exercise activates the part of the brain responsible for executive function, helping to control the amygdala, the part of the brain that reacts to fear.

Post a comment