What is generalized anxiety disorder? Do you feel like you worry too much? Were you a worried and anxious child? If you answered yes, then it’s possible you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Although this disorder usually debuts around the age of 30, most people with this diagnosis confessed that they have felt this way their entire lives.
What is generalized anxiety disorder?
You may think the text up above could describe the world’s entire population, especially in the troubling and stressful times we live in, and you would be partially right. Of course, anxiety is part of the inner lives of all mentally healthy people. What makes the distinction between usual, daily concerns, and generalized anxiety disorder, is:
- The frequency of the worries
- Their intensity
- The lack of control over your own thoughts
- Their impact on your normal functioning
For example: Most of us are sometimes preoccupied by financial aspects. This, however, happens when there is a concrete, potential threat to our wellbeing, like the fact that an unpaid bill could lead to the power going out, or a raise in rent that will mess our whole budget up. A person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, however, has daily recurrent negative thoughts, for months in a row. Most times, these thoughts and feelings of anxiety are disproportionately intense in comparison to the problem confronted. They are incontrollable and can cause a series of other physical and psychological symptoms, that affect wellbeing.
People diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder describe it as such:
”You know when you fall and you’re not sure if you’re gonna fall or not? That’s how I feel constantly.”
”Generalized anxiety is like when you check your pockets for your wallet and can’t find it. That’s the state I live in all the time.”
”It’s like I have a huge boulder on my chest and I feel like I can’t breathe deeply enough.”
Signs and symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety is a state of activation, in which stress hormones are secreted (adrenaline and cortisol). This state appears in order to mobilize us and prepare our mind and body to confront a dangerous situation. As a result, the body undergoes changes like: a heightened pulse and blood pressure; accelerating the respiratory rhythm or relaxing the stomach’s musculature. All these lead to a series of physical symptoms that people with generalized anxiety feel, especially in conditions where this physical and mental activation is repeated and prolonged, inevitably affecting the body’s healthy functioning.
The most common symptoms are:
- Excessive worry about regular things
- Difficulties in managing these worries or states of anxiety
- Feeling unsettled and irritable
- Awareness of being excessively worried
- difficulties in sleeping and relaxing
- problems focusing
- headaches, stomach aches, sore muscles
- muscular tension
- hot or cold sweats
- nausea, feeling like you’re about to faint
- limbs, especially hands and fingers, falling asleep, feeling tingly
- a need to use the bathroom excessively
Symptoms tend to be chronic and have an uneven evolution along the sufferer’s lifetime. They occur in periods of time that are both subclinical, meaning they are not severe enough to elicit a generalized anxiety disorder diagnostics, and clinical.
Most frequent causes for worry when it comes to generalized anxiety disorder differ depending on the age of the sufferer.
When it comes to adults, the causes are:
- professional responsibilities
- their own or their loved ones’ physical health
- children and what bad things may happen to them
- minor inconveniences, like being late, house chores
In the case of children and teenagers, worries are most often related to:
- their own competence
- catastrophes, like the possibility of an earthquake or war
Children and teenagers suffering from generalized anxiety disorder tend to be perfectionists, conformists, and insecure. They often redo many of their tasks because they feel dissatisfied with anything that’s less than perfect. They usually put in excessive amounts of effort in order to get validation and reassurance from others regarding their competence and other things that worry them.
When it comes to seniors, anxiety is mainly caused by:
- physical conditions they suffer from
- safety (they fear falling and hurting themselves, having an accident)
Along the condition’s development, the object of worry can vary greatly.
Generalized anxiety – Causes
As with other anxiety disorders, the exact causes of generalized anxiety disorder are not known. There is, however, another series of risk factors, that increase the probability that someone might develop this condition. These factors are:
- Genetic factors – a third of the risk of suffering from generalized anxiety is genetic. If a close relative has this diagnostic, you have a high chance of developing it yourself.
- Personality and temper factors – traits like negativism, shyness, avoidant behavior, are heavily associated with a higher index of generalized anxiety disorder.
- Environmental factors – negative childhood events, excessive parental protection, or other traumatic situations are associated with the generalized anxiety disorder diagnostic.
Treatment of generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is generally treated with both medication and psychotherapy. Here are the most efficient treatment methods:
1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
This type of psychotherapy is the golden standard for curing anxiety disorders. During individual or group therapy sessions, you’re provided with help in identifying anxiety-triggered thoughts and feelings. This therapy aims to teach you how to control them and replace them with more realistic thoughts and more constructive behaviors. This leads to diminishing anxiety, in time.
2. Dialectic-behavioral therapy (DBT)
This kind of psychotherapy was initially conceptualized especially for treating suicidal patients, or patients with borderline personality disorder, for whom CBT did not show results. In reality, this kind of therapy proved to be efficient in treating many other conditions, including anxiety. DBT consists of both individual therapy sessions, and an ability group. There, participants benefit from psychoeducation, in order to better manage their symptoms. A key component of generalized anxiety is the overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety. DBT can help better manage intense emotions, as well as gain control over them, instead of letting them control us. This is an ability many of us never learned. What’s more, the mindfulness module helps us calm down a hyperactive mind, that always fabricates negative scenarios, and concentrate on the here and now.
3. Mindfulness-based treatment methods
Mindfulness is a concept borrowed from Buddhist tradition and represents the capacity of being fully present, being completely aware of what surrounds you, without being overwhelmed by what’s going on around you. We can cultivate our quality of being mindful through meditation. You can reach a state of complete awareness, without any judgement, in regards to the current experience, along with everything it represents: your own thoughts, bodily sensations, exterior sounds or people. As the practice of mindfulness has been proven to have beneficial effects on mental health, lots of people have learned to incorporate it in many mental conditions’ therapy methodologies. Among these is the previously mentioned DBT. Other mentionable therapy methods are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Studies show that MBCT AND MBSR are efficient in diminishing some anxiety symptoms, as well as depression symptoms, that often accompany anxious disorders.
Depending on the severity of the condition, as well as your personal and specific needs, the psychiatrist can prescribe meds for treating generalized anxiety disorder. Among the most efficient and most utilized classes of drugs are:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (ISRS)
- Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
They are also used in treating depression. These meds have the role of regulating the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, and, although it is currently unknown exactly what the mechanism through which they are beneficial in treatment is, they reduce the intensity of symptoms. Benzodiazepines are more efficient in treating this condition than antidepressants. They do, however, present the risk of addiction and increased tolerance.