Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common condition that causes people to be in a constant state of worry and stress for months or even years. These feelings can be so strong that they interfere with one’s daily life. This anxiety disorder affects over 6.7 million adults in the U.S., or over 3% of the population, in any given year.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is a state of ongoing heightened anxiety, where a person is constantly worrying about many different things, including small everyday things like an upcoming appointment, a to-do list, or whether their kids got to school on time. What’s more, they will find it very difficult to control their worrying, even when they realize that it’s going too far.
GAD affects how people think, feel, and behave. It can cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, upset stomach, and aches and pains, and can also make it hard to concentrate or sleep.
How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?
A GAD diagnosis can be made when a person has excessive anxiety and worry about a number of different events or activities, and when this worry is difficult to control and continues for six months or more. The person also needs to have three or more of the following symptoms:
- Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Trouble sleeping
Your doctor may want to rule out other conditions that could cause your symptoms, such as:
- Thyroid problems
- Heart disease
- Excessive caffeine use
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
The exact cause of GAD is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some people seem to be naturally prone to anxiety, which may be due to their genetics or early life experiences. Certain personality types, like people who are very perfectionistic, may also experience high levels of anxiety when things don’t go exactly as they planned. During stressful life events, the anxiety can become even more intense and reach the level of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There are changes in the balance of certain chemical signals in the brain that can be found in people with GAD.
How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for GAD, but many effective options exist. The most common treatments are medication and therapy.
The main class of medications used to treat GAD are the antidepressants. Many people with GAD will also experience depression, but even when they are not depressed, these medications are very effective at treating anxiety.
Like all medications, antidepressants can cause side-effects, though generally speaking these medications are very safe, side-effects are usually mild and they go away as soon as the medication is stopped.
Your doctor will work with you to find the best medication for your needs. They will also help you manage any side effects you may experience.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The most commonly used therapy for GAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is based on scientific research showing that the way someone feels is strongly influenced by their thoughts and behaviors. CBT helps people modify the way they think and behave so as to gain control over their anxiety.
Besides medication and therapy, you can make a few lifestyle changes to help reduce your anxiety. Getting even 15 minutes of exercise a day can work very well to lower anxiety. Sleeping regular hours, and avoiding too much caffeine and alcohol, is also important.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition that causes people to feel constant worry and stress. It can be treated with therapy and medication. If you think you may have GAD, contact Antidote Health, where our team of board-certified doctors can help you get the medication treatment you need.