What Is Generalized Anxiety
People who suffer from generalized anxiety
disorder, or GAD, worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations.
It’s also sometimes known as chronic anxiety neurosis.
GAD is different than normal feelings of
anxiousness. It’s common to feel anxious about the things happening in your
life — like your finances — every once in awhile. A person who has GAD may
worry uncontrollably about their finances several times a day for months on
end. This can happen even when there isn’t a reason to worry. The person is
often aware that there is no reason for them to worry. Sometimes people with
this condition just worry, but they are unable to say what they are worried
about. They report feelings that something bad may happen or may report that
they just can’t calm themselves.
This excessive, unrealistic worry can be
frightening and can interfere with relationships and daily activities.
Symptoms of Generalized
Symptoms of GAD include:
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle tension
- repeated stomachaches or diarrhea
- sweating palms
- rapid heartbeat
- neurological symptoms such as complaints of numbness/tingling of
different parts of the body
Distinguishing GAD from
Other Mental Health Issues
Anxiety is a common symptom of many mental
health conditions, like depression and various phobias. GAD is different from
these conditions in several ways.
People experiencing depression may
occasionally feel anxious. People suffering from phobias worry about one
particular thing, but people suffering from GAD worry about a number of
different topics over a long period of time (six months or more), or may not be
able to identify the source of their worry.
What Are the Causes and
Risk Factors of GAD?
Causes of and risk factors for GAD may
- a family history of anxiety
- recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations, including
personal or family illnesses
- excessive use of caffeine or tobacco (which can make existing
- being the victim of childhood abuse
According to the Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely to
experience GAD than men.
How Is Generalized Anxiety
GAD is diagnosed with a mental health
screening that your primary care provider can perform. They will ask you
questions about your symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them. They
can refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist or
Medical tests may also be used to determine
whether there is an underlying illness or substance abuse problem causing your
symptoms. Anxiety has been linked to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),
thyroid disorders, heart disease, and menopause.
If your primary care provider suspects that a
medical condition or substance abuse problem is the cause of the anxiety, they
may perform more tests. These may include:
- blood tests — to check hormone levels (thyroid disorders)
- urine tests — to check for substance abuse
- gastric reflux tests (X-ray of your digestive system, endoscopy
procedure to look at your esophagus) — to check for GERD
- X-rays and stress tests (monitoring your heart function while you
exercise) — to check for heart conditions
How Is Generalized Anxiety
This involves meeting regularly to talk with
a mental health professional. The goal is to change your thinking and
behaviors. This approach has been successful in achieving permanent change in
many people who suffer from anxiety, and is considered first-line treatment of
anxiety disorders in persons who are pregnant. Others have found that the
benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy have provided long-term relief from
In therapy sessions, you will learn how to
recognize and control your anxious thoughts. Your therapist will also teach you
how to calm yourself when upsetting thoughts arise.
Doctors often prescribe medicines along with
therapy to treat GAD.
Drugs and Medication
Your prescriber will most likely create a short-term medication
plan and a long-term medication plan.
Short-term medications relax some of the physical symptoms of
anxiety, such as muscle tension and stomach cramping. These are called
anti-anxiety medicines. Some common anti-anxiety medications are:
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- buspirone (Buspar)
Anti-anxiety medicines aren’t meant to be taken
for long periods of time, as they have a high risk for dependence and abuse.
Medicines called antidepressants work well
for long-term treatment. Some common antidepressants are:
- citalopram (Celexa)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem)
- fluvoxamine (Luvox, Luvox CR)
- paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
These medicines can take a few weeks to start
working. They can also have side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, and
diarrhea. These symptoms bother some people so much that they stop taking these
There is a very low risk of young adults
experiencing an increase in suicidal thoughts at the beginning of treatment
with antidepressants. Stay in close contact with your prescriber if you’re
taking antidepressants. Make sure you report any mood or thought changes that
Your doctor may prescribe both an anti-anxiety
medication and an antidepressant. If so, you’ll probably only take the
anti-anxiety medicine for a few weeks until your antidepressant starts working,
or on an as-needed basis.
Lifestyle Changes to Help
Ease Symptoms of GAD
Many people can find relief by adopting certain lifestyle habits.
These may include:
- regular exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of sleep
- yoga and meditation
- avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, and some over-the-counter
medicines such as diet pills or caffeine pills
- talking with a trusted friend, spouse, or family member about
fears and worries
Alcohol and Anxiety
Drinking alcohol can make you feel less
anxious almost immediately. This is why many people who suffer from anxiety
turn to drinking alcohol to feel better.
However, it’s important to remember that
alcohol can have a negative effect on your mood. Within a few hours or the day
after drinking, you may experience more irritability or depression. It can also
interfere with the medications used to treat the condition. Some medication and
alcohol combinations can be fatal.
If you find that your drinking is interfering
with your daily activities, talk to your primary care provider. You can also
find free support to stop drinking through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Outlook for Those with
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Most people can manage GAD with a combination
of therapy, medicine, and lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor if you’re
concerned about how much you worry. They can refer you to a mental health