Generalized anxiety disorder affects nearly 4 million people at any given time, in the United States alone. Most people experience anxiety on a regular basis, but those with this type of anxiety can find it difficult to maintain a normal, healthy lifestyle. But what is generalized anxiety disorder?
Below you will find all the information you need to understand exactly what is generalized anxiety disorder, the signs and symptoms, and possible treatment options to manage this disorder.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience anxiety on a more-severe level than others. When you have this disorder, you “experience extreme worry that can interfere with sleep and is usually accompanied by body symptoms ranging from tiredness to headaches and nausea.” GAD is considered much more than the average anxiety a person experiences each day.
GAD makes people suffer from severe tension, worry, and stress; sometimes without any provocation. These symptoms are chronic and can come-on with little-to-no notice. This type of disorder’s symptoms can often be confused with other conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder.
GAD can start presenting itself as early as childhood and can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. When generalized anxiety disorder goes undiagnosed and untreated, it can impair the ability to perform everyday tasks, steal away focus/concentration, drain energy, and increase the risk for depression. It can even worsen or lead to physical problems, like headaches and migraines, chronic pain, sleep problems/insomnia, and heart issues.
7 Symptoms or Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There are both mental and physical signs of generalized anxiety disorder. It should be stated that at least 3 of these symptoms must be present more often than not for at least 6 months in adults. For children, only one of these signs is required for diagnosis. The biggest diagnosis difference in figuring out what is generalized anxiety disorder and just ‘anxiety’ is the frequency. Signs and symptoms of GAD include:
- Unexplained irritability.
- Muscle tension.
- The feeling of being on-edge, or restlessness.
- Problems sleeping (restlessness, unsatisfying sleep, or difficulty staying/falling asleep).
- Becoming easily fatigued.
- Difficulties focusing/problems with “zoning out”.
- Persistent worrying or anxiety, overthinking, and difficulty handling the unknown.
Though not as common, severe anxiety can cause issues within the body, like diarrhea, irritable bowels, indigestion, nausea, trembling, or sweating.
In children, symptoms may present themselves a little differently. Children with generalized anxiety disorder may have the following characteristics or symptoms:
- Anxiety over punctuality, performance at school/sporting events, natural disasters, or safety of family/friends
- The constant need or feeling to fit in.
- Perfectionism in school, sports, or at home- kids may constantly strive for approval or require a lot of reassurance.
Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Much like other mental health conditions, what causes generalized anxiety disorder is unknown. GAD may be caused by a combination of components, including genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Those who are more prone to mental health issues through genetics or family history, natural personality, issues during development, and variances in brain function/chemistry could all cause GAD.
The cause of GAD is still unknown, but research dictates that there are certain risk factors associated with the disorder. The following are considered factors which increase the risk of developing generalized anxiety order:
- Gender: Women are more-likely to be diagnosed with GAD than men are. This may be because more women are prone to anxiety issues or less men are seeking help for their condition.
- Experiences: Those with GAD typically have a history of negative/traumatic experiences or life changes. Being forced to handle these experiences (especially as children) can trigger GAD. Having other mental health conditions or illnesses increase your risk of being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.
- Personality: People with naturally negative or timid personalities are more prone to developing this disorder than other people.
- Genetics: Like many other mental health conditions, having a history of GAD or other anxiety disorders in your family increases the risk of developing it yourself.
How GAD Is Diagnosed
If you or your physician suspect you have GAD, they will begin an evaluation that involves asking questions about psychiatric and medical histories. There may also be a physical exam. There is no specific test for GAD, but a doctor will make a diagnosis based on both the intensity and frequency of symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment
There is no cure for GAD; much like most mental health conditions. But with the right treatment plan, it can be managed, and those who suffer from GAD can lead normal lives. Before a treatment plan is chosen however, there must be a formal diagnosis. When a doctor looks at symptoms and decides that generalized anxiety disorder is the proper diagnosis, he/she will recommend a treatment plan that usually includes a combination of medication and therapy. Seeking help early for GAD increases the chance for a normal, healthy life.
Medications. There are a variety of drugs available that a doctor can prescribe to help those whose daily functions are affected by GAD. For short-term purposes, doctors can prescribe benzodiazepines, which remove acute feelings of anxiety. These are not often given on a long-term basis, because they can be extremely addictive.
To treat anxiety over longer periods of time, a doctor can prescribe certain antidepressants which are better-designed for long-term use. These drugs however, may take a few weeks to begin working. The most common side effects for these medications can include addiction, weight-gain, nausea, sexual issues, and sleepiness.
Therapy. People with generalized anxiety disorder can participate in many types of therapy. Very often, those with GAD participate in cognitive-behavior therapy, which slowly teaches patients to recognize and change thoughts and behaviors associated with anxious feelings. Patients can also practice relaxation techniques, biofeedback, and deep-breathing exercises.
Generalized anxiety disorder is common, but it doesn’t have to destroy lives. With early diagnosis and treatment, those with GAD can go on to lead healthy, less-anxious lives. For any and all mental health concerns, a doctor or medical professional should be consulted right away.