Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

People who have generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, have a tendency to worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations. GAD is very common, affecting about 3% of the US population. People with this condition don’t just worry, but they also report feeling sad, anxious, and struggle even coming up with the strength to complete certain activities. It’s important to note that GAD is a chronic anxiety neurosis that is different from normal feelings of anxiousness.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

It’s common for people to worry about things like money, family problems, and health. But people with generalized anxiety disorder feel extremely worried about almost everything – even when there’s little or no reason to worry. People with GAD find it very difficult to control their anxiety and stay focused on daily tasks.

At times, people with GAD can also struggle with physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches. When their anxiety level is mild to moderate or with treatment, people with GAD can function socially and have meaningful lives.  Unfortunately, without treatment they can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities when their anxiety is severe. 

Criteria for GAD Diagnosis

Typically, patients with GAD experience excessive anxiety about ordinary situations. This anxiety causes distress or functional impairments, and often deals with multiple domains. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as sleep disturbances, restlessness, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal symptoms. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, (DSM-5) lists some of the factors to diagnose generalized anxiety disorders:

  • Excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least six months.
  • The patient finds it difficult to control the worry. 
  • The anxiety and worry are associated with three or more of the following symptoms: restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance.
  • The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning.
  • The disturbance is not attributable to physiological effects of a substance, such as drug abuse or medications. 
  • The disturbance is not better explained by another mental disorder.

Symptoms Unique to Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD develops very slowly. It often starts during the teen years or young adulthood. However, because anxiety disorders are often minimized in severity, they go undiagnosed and untreated. Most people with GAD may:

  • Worry excessively about everyday things
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worries or nervousness
  • Feel restless and have trouble relaxing
  • Be easily startled
  • Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Experience headaches, muscle aches, or unexplained pains
  • Be irritable or feel “on edge” constantly

Symptoms may get better or worse at different times. They are often worse during times of stress, such as with a physical illness, during exams at school, or during a family or relationship conflict. 

What Causes GAD?

There’s no single cause associated with GAD. In some cases, generalized anxiety disorder can run in families. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain, as well as biological processes, can play a role in fear and anxiety. The most commonly associated causes for GAD include:

  • Family history of anxiety
  • Recent exposure to stressful situations
  • Excessive use of caffeine or tobacco
  • Childhood abuse or bullying
  • Certain health conditions

There is also some preliminary evidence that people with GAD may experience certain activation in areas of the brain associated with mental activity. However, despite further research, there isn’t a sole cause of anxiety disorders. 

Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Fortunately, GAD can be treated and managed with different approaches, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: this form of psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health professional to change your thinking and behaviors hopefully.
  • Medication: short-term medications can help relax some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as muscle tension and stomach cramping. Anti-anxiety drugs are not meant to be taken for long periods of time, but they can help kickstart the healing process.
  • Lifestyle changes: people can also find relief by adopting certain lifestyle and behavioral changes. Exercise, a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and meditation can help reduce anxiety and stress symptoms. 


Finding Help for GAD

It’s important to be aware of the side effects of anxiety disorders. For example, drinking alcohol can help you feel less anxious. People who suffer from anxiety may turn to drugs or alcohol to feel better. However, this can actually heighten the feelings of anxiety and depression after the effects wear off. 

If you find that your anxiety interferes with your daily activities, talk to your doctor. The same goes if you feel your drinking habits or drug use are interfering. It’s important to discuss with your doctor or reach out to an addiction treatment center to learn more about their programs and options. 

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