You often feel nervous or afraid for no apparent reason. You’ve begun to have frequent headaches and stomach aches. And it’s become more difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. These can be warning signs of generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Untreated GAD can undermine your ability to enjoy a full and satisfying life. But with the proper treatment, you can achieve a much healthier and more hopeful future.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is one of several anxiety disorders. Other anxiety disorders include specific phobia, social phobia, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.
Virtually everyone has moments where they feel anxious or nervous. In certain circumstances, this is a normal and even healthy response. But if you have generalized anxiety disorder, the symptoms you experience don’t result from a perceived threat. They also last much longer, and can be much more severe, than “typical” temporary anxiety or nervousness.
If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you will develop an overwhelming sense of fear, worry, or dread. You will feel this way about several aspects of your life (such as work, school, your relationships, and the well-being of people you care about). These symptoms will persist for at least six months, and they will be difficult or impossible to control.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 6% of adults in the United States will develop generalized anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetime. Also, the NIMH reports that about 3% of adults had symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the previous 12 months. This condition affects about 3% of women and about 2% of men.
As described in greater detail in the “Warning Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder” section below, GAD can cause you to experience both physical and psychological distress. If you don’t get treatment for this disorder, it can wreak havoc in virtually all parts of your life. Thankfully, if you do get help, you can regain control of your emotions and achieve improved quality of life.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Researchers have not identified one sole cause of generalized anxiety disorder. Most experts believe that there are several factors that can influence your risk for developing this condition.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the following are three common risk factors for GAD:
- Having overprotective parents as a child
- Having a history of childhood adversity
- Inheriting traits such as behavioral inhibition and negative affectivity (NA)
The term “childhood adversity” can refer to a wide range of traumatic experiences. These can include growing up in poverty, being abused or neglected, the separation or divorce of your parents, and the death of a parent or other significant person.
Warning Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Here are some common warning signs of generalized anxiety disorder:
- Uncontrollable fear or worry
- Feeling that you are constantly on edge
- Problems with concentration or focus
- Often feeling agitated or irritable
- Inability to get a full night’s sleep
- Persistent muscle tension
- Frequent headaches and stomach aches
GAD can affect different people in different ways. You don’t have to have every symptom listed above to be diagnosed with this disorder.
If you have been exhibiting any warning signs of generalized anxiety disorder, it is a good idea to consult with your family doctor or another qualified professional. This person can assess your symptoms, provide an accurate diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Complications of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
If you need but do not receive treatment for GAD, you may have an elevated risk for several negative outcomes. Potential complications of generalized anxiety disorder include the following:
- Unsatisfactory performance at school or in work
- Academic failure
- Job loss and long-term unemployment
- Strained relationships with family, friends, and colleagues
- Depression and other co-occurring mental health concerns
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Social withdrawal and isolation
Fortunately, generalized anxiety disorder can be treated. In fact, when you receive the type and level of care that matches the full scope of your needs, you can learn to manage your symptoms. With proper treatment, your life can get much better.
How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?
Several types of psychotherapy and certain prescription medications can help people who have been living with generalized anxiety disorder.
Antidepressants such as paroxetine and venlafaxine are often included in personalized treatment plans for GAD. In some cases, benzodiazepines can also be beneficial. However, while medication can ease certain GAD symptoms, it cannot address the behavioral and social aspects of this disorder. This is why therapy often includes medications.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has proved to be particularly effective at helping people who have GAD. During CBT sessions, you can learn to identify self-defeating thought and behavior patterns. Following this, you can work with the CBT therapist to develop healthier and more productive ways of thinking and acting.
Moreover, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be vital components of a comprehensive plan to treat generalized anxiety disorder. If you have developed GAD in the aftermath of one or more traumatic experiences, see if your care plan includes coverage of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy or other trauma services.
Find Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder in South Florida
Neuroscience Institute is a premier provider of customized care for adults who have developed generalized anxiety disorder, other mental health conditions, and dual diagnosis. Treatment options at our center in South Florida include personalized services at the residential and intensive outpatient levels. Contact us today to learn how we can help you or your loved one.