Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Many people may worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) feel extremely worried or nervous more frequently about these and other things -even when there is little or no reason to worry about them.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety can be a normal response to everyday stressors. However, extreme worry or constant anxiety can make it difficult to complete routine tasks, and should be evaluated by a health care provider. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent psychiatric disorder in any age category, and there are many different types.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), one type of anxiety disorder, is characterized by several months of excessive worrying about various activities or circumstances, such as family, health and finances, job responsibilities, and school.
These feelings of extreme worrying are difficult to control and can also manifest as physical symptoms. GAD develops gradually and usually starts around age 30, but it can also occur in children and adolescents. It can run in families and is more common in women than men.
What are the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder?
Some symptoms include:
- Feeling anxious, on edge, or nervous
- Not being able to stop or control worrying
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling restless or feeling keyed up
- Trouble relaxing
- Becoming easily annoyed or more irritable
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Other physical symptoms could be headaches, excessive sweating, feeling lightheaded, nausea, or diarrhea
Symptoms of GAD can fluctuate over time, and often symptoms worsen during times of stress. Some examples include during times of conflict with family or friends, after changing jobs or unemployment, during school exams, and physical illness.
How is anxiety treated?
If a person believes they are experiencing symptoms of GAD, they should speak with a health care provider. After discussion with their health care provider, they may be referred to a mental health professional, such as a clinical social worker, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. This is an important step as the mental health professional can help identify a diagnosis and recommend a targeted treatment.
GAD often responds well to treatment and is treated with medication or psychotherapy or both. The most common medication used to treat depression and anxiety are called antidepressants, which are further classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
A health care provider can help determine which medication would the most helpful. Psychotherapy is colloquially referred to as “talk therapy” and can be used alone or in conjunction with medications as treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy supported by research to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
During CBT, the therapist and patient work together toward the primary goal of modifying different patterns of the patient’s thinking as well as their reactions to stressful situations in efforts to develop more effective ways of coping and reduce anxiety long-term. People diagnosed with GAD will often be managing anxiety for the rest of their life; however, effective treatments give them the tools to better manage their condition.