We all experience stress as we go through life, and sometimes our levels are extra high. The kids are late getting ready for school; the car is making a troublesome noise; we have a big deadline at work–as things pile up, our anxiety grows. But for most of us, as problems get resolved, our feelings calm down.
However, there are those for whom feeling anxious is a regular state-of-mind. If you have those types of feelings day after day, you may have generalized anxiety disorder. Professional help can bring this disorder under control.
Symptoms can vary, but typically they include:
- Constant worrying about issues large and small
- Restlessness and feeling on edge
- Feeling tired
- Difficulty concentrating or having your mind “go blank”
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trembling, feeling twitchy or being easily startled
- Trouble sleeping
- Sweating, nausea or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat
People with generalized anxiety disorder may also feel anxious for no obvious reason. They may needlessly fret about their safety or the safety of their family, or feel a sense of impending disaster.
Children and adolescents can also experience this disorder, and may worry excessively about the following:
- Performing well in school, sports or activities
- Being on time
- Catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or wars
- Fitting in with peers
This worry may manifest itself with children / teens in the following ways:
- Being a perfectionist
- Lacking confidence
- Redoing tasks that were not perfect the first tim
- Constantly striving for approval
- Requiring a lot of reassurance about performance
When to Seek Treatment
See a doctor if you feel that your anxiety is beginning to interfere with your work, relationships, and other aspects of your life. You should also get help if you are feeling depressed, drinking excessively, doing drugs, or have other mental health issues as well as anxiety. If you have suicidal thoughts or behaviors, then seek emergency help immediately.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
The cause for this disorder is not fully understood. Here is what we know: Naturally-occurring brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine seem to be involved and be “out of balance.” Some physical health conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, heart disease, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, and menopause, can increase the likelihood of developing this disorder. People who have experienced childhood trauma, a chronic illness (such as cancer), chronic stress or a significant stressful incident, and women, are at greater risk of experiencing generalized anxiety disorder. The disorder may run in families and is also worsened by abuse of alcohol, nicotine or drugs. Some personality types are are also more prone to developing this condition.
It is important to get help because generalized anxiety disorder does not just cause constant worry, it can lead to other debilitating physical and mental conditions, such as depression, substance abuse, insomnia, digestive or bowel problems, headaches, and teeth grinding.
How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?
The main treatments for the disorder are medication and psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.
Among the medications typically prescribed are these:
- Antidepressants: These medications affect the activity of the neurotransmitters believed to influence anxiety disorders. Antidepressants frequently prescribed include Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, and Prozac.
- Buspirone: This is an anti-anxiety medication which may be prescribed on an ongoing basis.
- Benzodiazepines: In some circumstances, a doctor may prescribe a sedative from this family of medications for short-term relief of anti-anxiety symptoms. Common examples include Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax. These medications can be habit-forming, and can have side effects, so they are used only in certain circumstances and for short duration.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help you figure out the underlying stresses and concerns that are triggering the chronic anxiety. Such therapy can help you develop coping strategies and make behavioral changes that will aid you in dealing with future stress.
Other Helpful Tips
- Get regular exercise: Exercise is a powerful stress reducer; it can improve your mood and help keep you physically healthy as well.
- Eat a healthy diet. Avoid fatty, sugary and processed foods; be sure to include foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
- Avoid alcohol and other sedatives–these can worsen anxiety.
- Try relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, visualization, meditation and yoga. All are helpful at easing anxiety.
- Get enough quality sleep. A good night’s rest makes it easier for you to cope with life’s curve balls and can also help keep physical ailments at bay.
- Join an anxiety support group. Sharing your story with others who understand what you are going through can be beneficial.
- Interact with friends and loved ones, and enjoy activities.
- Socializing can help reduce anxiety; isolation can make it worse
- Take practical steps toward reducing stress. If you worry about finances, work out a budget to follow. If you worry about your health, talk with your doctor about a fitness plan.
- Look at ways to break the cycle when worries start–go for a walk, call a friend to get together; seek comfort in spiritual support.
Generalized anxiety disorder is treatable. With the right approach, you can learn to relax and restore a sense of balance to your life.