What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

ImageEveryone worries now and then – it’s a part of life.  Depending on what is going on in your life, it’s expected to feel stressed out sometimes. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, though, experience this to the extreme. They can’t seem to shake that state of being stressed out – even when they logically know that their level of anxiety may be out of proportion to the actual situation. This type of anxiety is generally severe and ongoing, and interferes with the person’s life. If you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, you may find it almost impossible to relax or clear your head from worrisome thoughts. It can be difficult to concentrate, or you may startle easily. There are physical symptoms, as well. These can include heart palpitations, trembling, sweating, nausea, twitching or tics, dizziness, feeling out of breath, and other symptoms that come from being overly agitated or ramped up. Getting a good night’s sleep may be very difficult, and it’s common to wake during the night and be unable to get back to sleep due to intrusive worries or racing thoughts. Anxiety can also affect appetite, leading to the person being undernourished, or conversely, eating too much as a way to cope with what feels like overwhelming stress.


Some people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder report having panic attacks, which can be a very scary experience. Generalized Anxiety Disorder can definitely cause impairment in your ability to function well in daily life, in work, and in your relationships. It’s estimated that Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects almost 7 million adults here in America.


What can you do if you suspect you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder? The first thing I suggest is to make sure there is no physical cause for your symptoms. This can mean seeing a health care professional, describing what you experience, and ruling out any underlying medical condition. If the diagnosis you are given is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, there are a number of things that may help. The next step might be to see a mental health professional. One of the most effective treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of approach that helps the person learn new ways of looking at the world, stress, and methods of managing thought patterns that feed into the anxiety. CBT teaches the patient new methods of thinking, reacting, and behaving in response to stress, and this can help with anxiety and worry. The patient may also learn stress management techniques, or be advised to add exercise to his or her daily routine. Each person is different, and treatment plans may vary.


Another type of treatment involves anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication. This must be prescribed by a medical doctor, and used exactly as directed. Some of the anti-anxiety medications can be habit forming, and are generally not prescribed for long-term use. They are more likely to be given to the patient for the short-term, to help the person over the worst of the anxiety while they learn coping mechanisms for handling stress and worry in a more effective manner. Any medication should be monitored closely for side effects or potential misuse. Medication is not an automatic solution for Generalized Anxiety Disorder – if you have concerns about medication, definitely bring them up to your health care provider.


Often, psychotherapy and medication are both advised to provide the patient with the best arsenal of support and help to manage anxiety. Your treatment plan may vary – this is just a general overview of how many patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are helped.


It can be helpful to include your family or loved ones in your treatment plan. They can benefit from understanding what you are going through, and learn ways to be there for you. In addition, support groups can be very helpful as you go through treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

The good news is that there is effective treatment available. If you suspect you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, by all means first see your doctor to rule out any medical conditions, and then consider seeking help from a trained mental health professional.


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