Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an exaggeration of normal worries and anxieties. This anxiety disorder can be quite devastating, as the anxiety and worry about everyday events is often all-consuming and affects every aspect of daily life.
Many of us worry about the stresses and strains of daily life. We worry about money, the children, the house, our health and a million other things. A certain degree of worry is obviously, healthy and even helpful.
Because the worry associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is constant and usually out of proportion to the situation. Often, people with GAD indulge in catastrophic thinking or worst-case-scenarios.
For example, your child fails a math test, you mull this over in your mind . . . and the worry starts. My child has failed his math test; he is not very good at math; this means that he will fail in education; he will not go to university or get a good job; therefore he will be a homeless person.
The above is an example of worst-case scenario thinking, so the anxious mind has taken a giant leap from one failed minor test to a life in ruins.
Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
As we have already seen, Generalized Anxiety Disorder can severely affect a person’s life. Not only are the psychological symptoms severe, the strain on the body often leads to physical symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a very common disorder and affects around 6.8 million adult Americans. Interestingly, women are twice as likely as men to experience GAD.
The amount of people suffering with GAD is probably much higher than statistics suggest as many people will not seek treatment or even recognize that there is a problem.
Furthermore, Genralized anxiety disorder can also exist with other mental health conditions as well, such as bipolar disorder or social anxiety disorder.
Because the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder are so broad and diverse, different people will suffer different symptoms making diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder difficult.
- Excessive worry and anxiety that interferes with day-to-day life.
- Constant worry and anxieties that are out of proportion to the situation, in addition, worst-case scenario and catastrophic thinking are common.
- Feeling constantly ‘on edge’ or ‘wired’
- Inability to concentrate
- A constant sense of dread
- Easily startled: the slightest noise or unexpected event can cause a heightened response, such as jumping. This is because the fight-flight response is permanently active.
- Tense muscles: with bodily pains especially in the back and neck.
- Trembling and sweating
- Nausea and stomach ache
- Intense fatigue and lack of energy
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Palpitations, pounding heart and fast or irregular heartbeat
- Sleep problems
Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Sometimes, people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder will also suffer from one or more of the other anxiety disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), panic attacks, phobias and depression.
Substance abuse, of either alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs are commonly used by GAD sufferers in an attempt to control the anxiety.
Because other medical conditions, such as heart disease, thyroid problems and diabetes, can cause anxiety it is important to see your family physician to rule out any underlying cause for anxiety.
Usually, a mental health professional will diagnose Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a proven anxiety therapy that helps with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, particularly the excessive anxiety.
Furthermore, medical studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy cbt,
‘helps to achieve moderate to large decreases in self-reported worry and depression.’
Cognitive therapy challenges the negative way we think about a situation and this, in turn, leads to a change in the underlying emotions connected with the negative thinking.
Finally, the ultimate goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to change the behaviour associated with the persistent, negative thoughts and emotions.
In addition, your cognitive behavioural therapy will teach you an important relaxation technique, such as progressive muscle relaxation, that can seriously help you calm down, clear your thoughts and . . . relax.
Medications may be prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder if self-help methods or cognitive-behavioral therapy have not worked.
However, it is important to note that before taking any medications, the options and side effects should be discussed with a mental health professional.
Self-Help Techniques for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
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If you have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder there are indeed, many self help tactics that you can adopt to significantly reduce any anxiety symptom and overwhelming worry.
1) Firstly, Educate yourself: Read and learn everything you can about GAD. In any case, find out the signs and symptoms and mechanisms behind anxiety. Furthermore, use books and resources to help you on your path to recovery.
2) Connect with others. Try and ensure that you have a healthy support network. Choose people to be around you who are supportive and helpful and have time for you. Possibly consider joining an online anxiety forum to connect with others who understand the issues that you face.
3) Relaxation Training: Take a class or even teach yourself techniques that help you to relax, examples include, hypnosis, meditation, yoga and mindfulness-based intervention, to name but a few.
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4) Healthy diet: The food that we eat can seriously affect our mood. Take a healthy, well rounded diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats and fish and lashings of water. Furthermore, find out about foods that help in decreasing anxiety such as wild salmon, dark chocolate and blueberries.
5) Exercise: Regular exercise is one of the best anti-anxiety techniques that you can adopt. Get out in the sunshine and get moving.
6) Finally, Avoid stimulants. If you smoke try to first reduce, and then stop, your nicotine habit also take a look at your alcohol consumption and if it is not in a healthy range, cut back. Finally, reduce your caffeine intake – swap those cups of tea and coffee for green tea and your carbonated drinks for water.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Me: A Personal Tale
Firstly, I’d like to say, I had a pretty normal childhood, I did all the usual things and can’t remember anything particularly out of the ordinary apart from my parents divorce.
All was well until I turned twelve. That is around the age that I remember the real problem starting. I became aware that I worried a LOT more than my siblings and friends over very trivial matters.
For example, one particular geography lesson, about volcanic mountains had me worrying for the rest of the year. The mountain in question is in our country and I was terrified that the volcanic larvae would reach our town, even though the mountain is situated at the other end of the country.
Effects on my life
Following my ongoing concerns about the volcano I didn’t sleep very well and this left me feeling terribly exhausted and fatigued. As time went by, I could not control my worries at all and the strain began to take a toll on all aspects of my life.
My friends noticed my unusual worry and, at first, tried to make light of it but over time they realized that I was not okay.
When I woke up in the morning I dreaded the thought of living through another day. From the minute I opened my eyes, the worries would start and it was just relentless.
I felt that everything around me was so threatening with enormous potential to harm me or my loved ones. Sometimes, the symptoms were physical and I would shake uncontrollably and sweat profusely and my heart would pound like it was going to break out of my chest.
If anybody asked me why I was anxious, I had no rational explanation to offer for my bizarre thoughts. Living with generalized anxiety disorder is like a fear that engulfs your entire being.
Friends and Family
My personal life was not spared either. I lost countless friends because I became irritated so easily. It became increasingly difficult to socialize, if I had to engage in a seemingly healthy debate, I would either walk away or shout down the other party.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is not well known and hence, not many understand the symptoms or what I was going through. At one point I developed an interest in murder series, every episode played in my head and I worried that the same murders I had seen on television would happen to my family.
Help is at Hand
My fist visit to the doctor was a real eye opener. I was asked a bunch of questions relating to my lifestyle, symptoms, amount of time I spent feeling worried and a whole assessment.
I told the doctor my history of worrying and anxiety and all about my symptoms. My family physician referred me to a child psychologist. I then began to worry that I was going insane.
However, from this point on things did get better. Throughout all my sessions, I learnt how to change my way of thinking and some of my habits. I gradually learnt how to control my anxiety levels and to avoid stressful situations that can trigger the anxiety.
I was also put on strict medication to help keep my symptoms under control. The medication was both short and long term. Obviously, the short-term medication, also called anti-anxiety medication, was to control some of the physical symptoms, such as stomach upsets and headaches. The anti-anxiety drug helped my body slowly get rid of the anxiety and depression.
The recovery process was quite an epic journey. Together with the cognitive behavioural therapy and medications, I made some major lifestyle changes too. I enrolled in a fitness programme to keep my body in good shape and reduce anxiety levels.
A healthy, nutritious diet, full of nutrients and fresh fruit and vegetables, also helped a lot. I cut out all stimulants, especially caffeine and nicotine. I also found that talking out my issues with the people around me helped me a lot. In addition, online support groups and forums were fantastic for finding other people with similar experiences and advice to offer.
Meditation and mindfulness classes came next and I eventually attended retreats whenever I could because the serene environment is very conducive for meditation.
Meditation is very helpful for anxiety as it teaches progressive muscle relaxation. Learning to understand the physical signs of anxiety is the first key in learning how to relax your body.
I suffered for many years with Generalized Anxiety Disorder before I got help and treatment. It is important that people are aware of the signs and symptoms and impact on lifestyle of this disorder too.
I am however a living testimony that Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be controlled with the right treatment and support and one can go back to living a normal, worry-free life.
- Tyrer P, Baldwin D. (2006) Generalised anxiety disorder. Lancet. 2006 Dec 16;368(9553):2156-66. (Retrieved October 26th 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17174708
- Sramek JJ, Zarotsky V, Cutler NR. (2002) Generalised anxiety disorder: treatment options. Drugs. 2002;62(11):1635-48. (Retrieved October 22nd 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12109925
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) A huge list of therapists and resources on all aspects of anxiety disorders.
- Self Help for GAD and Worry: Some interesting therapy techniques to help you get to grips with your worries and anxieties.
- Mind UK based charity with a wealth of information about anxiety disorders.
- American Psychiatric Association: Help with Anxiety disorders
Recent Anxiety Posts
- Anxiety Disorders: A look at the top 6 anxiety disorders. The signs, symptoms and treatments.
- Panic Attacks: All about panic disorder. Why do they happen? How to recognise one and the treatment of them.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Very interesting post on post-traumatic stress disorder ptsd. Different types of posttraumatic stress disorder, symptoms and treatments too.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Discover some surprising symptoms in this in-depth, research-based post about OCD.