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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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Symptoms and Causes of GAD

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), GAD is a common anxiety disorder characterized by excessive and persistent worry about a wide range of everyday life situations.

Navigation: What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?, Symptoms and Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Teenagers, When to See a Doctor for Your Generalized Anxiety Disorder, How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?, Can Anxiety Disorders Lead to Substance Abuse and Addiction?, Rehab is Your Best Chance

 

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious every now and then. But if you are experiencing excessive, ongoing anxiety in your daily life and you are struggling to keep your worries under control, then there must be something more serious going on beneath the surface.

Life is stressful sometimes, but if you are living your whole life with anxiety and excessive worry, then it may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder or GAD.

You can develop this condition as a child or as an adult. The symptoms are similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and other types of anxiety. However, they are all different conditions.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), GAD is a common anxiety disorder characterized by excessive and persistent worry about a wide range of everyday life situations. People with GAD often find it difficult to control their worrying, and the anxiety can significantly interfere with their daily activities, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Here we are going to discuss the signs, symptoms, and causes of GAD so that you know when to reach out for proper medical assistance for your mental health. Mental disorders need to be treated just as seriously as any physical illness. Let’s take a closer look.

 

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD, is a mental health condition characterized by excessive and persistent worry about various aspects of life. People with GAD often experience excessive anxiety and find it challenging to control their worries, even when there is little or no apparent reason for concern.

Their anxiety will be about a wide range of everyday things, such as work, health, family, finances, and many other issues. Their feelings of worry will often be disproportionate to the actual situation. Even when they recognize that their anxiety is excessive or irrational, they will find it difficult to stop their worrying thoughts.

The chronic nature of GAD means that people with this condition suffer from long-lasting anxiety. The symptoms usually persist for at least six months or more. During this period, the excessive worry and associated symptoms will be present on most days.

Generalized anxiety disorder can interfere with a person’s life. It can get in the way of work, relationships, and social activities.

Keep in mind that GAD has to be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional. They will consider a wide range of factors like duration, intensity, and impact of symptoms to differentiate GAD from normal levels of anxiety and worry.

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Symptoms and Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

This mental health condition is associated with an excessive and persistent feeling of worry. But what are the exact symptoms and causes of GAD?

People with generalized anxiety disorder experience persistent fear and intrusive worry about everyday things from family problems to health concerns. These feelings will make the person feel on edge, restless, and keyed up on a near constant basis. It makes it difficult for them to focus on their tasks and responsibilities. It’s either that or their mind often goes blank.

Because of their state of mind, they usually feel tired even without significant physical exertion. It is also easy for them to feel annoyed. In many cases, anxiety will even get in the way of sleep. They may struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. A lot of people with GAD have restless, unsatisfying sleep.

People with GAD tend to overthink plans and prepare solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes. They will perceive a lot of situations and events as threatening, even when they really aren’t.

When faced with uncertainty, they find it difficult to handle these situations. They display indecisiveness out of fear of making the wrong decision. For loved ones, it is important to remember that people with GAD cannot simply “let go” of their worries. They can’t set aside their feelings of restlessness and anxiety. It is basically impossible for them to relax.

In fact, it is common for generalized anxiety disorder to cause adverse physical health conditions like muscle tension, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches. People with GAD tend to suffer from fatigue, insomnia, nervousness, trembling, sweating, and irritability.

Even for no apparent reason, a person with GAD may feel intense worry about the safety of their loved ones. They may have a general sense that something bad is about to happen. With time and age, their worries can shift from one concern to another.

There are many different causes of generalized anxiety disorder. Everyone is different, but here are some of the most common causes:

Biological factors: Genetics can play a role in the development of GAD, as it tends to run in families. Additionally, imbalances in brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, can contribute to the disorder.

Environmental factors: Traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, or a significant loss, can increase the risk of developing GAD. Chronic stress, excessive work pressure, or major life changes (e.g., divorce, moving) can also contribute to the development of anxiety.

Personality traits: Individuals with certain personality characteristics, such as being perfectionistic, having low self-esteem, or being highly self-critical, may be more prone to developing GAD.

Cognitive factors: Negative thinking patterns, such as catastrophizing or always expecting the worst, can contribute to the development and maintenance of GAD.

Other mental health conditions: GAD can coexist with other mental health disorders, such as depression, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, further increasing the risk.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a complex condition. Different individuals may experience different combinations of symptoms and causes. If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent and excessive worry or anxiety, it’s advisable to seek professional help from mental health professionals for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Teenagers

Anyone can develop GAD regardless of age. While children and teenagers may have different problems from adults, they can still develop excessive worries about a lot of things like their performance at school, the safety of their family members, punctuality, peer pressure, earthquakes, fires, and catastrophic events.

A child or teen with excessive worry may be a perfectionist or spend too much time doing homework. GAD can contribute to a tendency towards perfectionism and self-criticism. They may be overly concerned about making mistakes or disappointing others. In some cases, they may also be overly anxious to fit in or just have a general lack of confidence.

Younger people with GAD tend to strive for other people’s approval. They need lots of reassurance about their performance and other aspects of life such as their appearance or social status. They may seek constant reassurance from parents, teachers, or other significant individuals in their lives to alleviate their anxiety and worry.

In some extreme cases, they may avoid going to school or try to stay away from social situations. Some children with GAD may try to avoid situations or activities that they perceive as potentially anxiety-provoking.

Children with GAD may be restless, fidgety, or easily agitated. They may have difficulty sitting still or concentrating on tasks due to their underlying anxiety. Their chronic worry and anxiety can lead to fatigue and low energy levels even when they don’t engage in a lot of physical activity.

Speaking of which, they will be prone to physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, and other unexplained body discomfort. These complaints may not have a clear medical cause.

Because of the effects of generalized anxiety disorder, it will be difficult for the child or teen to focus and concentrate on tasks. This will lead to difficulties in school. They may also struggle with activities that require sustained attention. It creates a cycle of poor performance and anxiety.

Just like with adults, children with GAD will experience sleep disturbances. Aside from having difficulties with sleeping and staying asleep, they may also have restless or disrupted sleep patterns.

It is important to note that while these symptoms may indicate the presence of GAD, a formal diagnosis should be made by a qualified healthcare professional based on a comprehensive evaluation of the child or teenager’s symptoms and functioning.

If you suspect that a child or teenager is experiencing GAD, it is recommended to seek professional help from a mental health provider.

When to See a Doctor for Your Generalized Anxiety Disorder

It’s normal to feel some anxiety once in a while. But if you feel like you’re worrying too much, to the point where it is interfering with your work and relationships, it’s time to consider seeking professional treatment.

Other signs that you may need to visit a doctor to get your GAD diagnosed include feeling depressed or irritable, having trouble with substance abuse, having co-occurring mental health issues, having suicidal thoughts, and feeling like your worries simply won’t go away on their own.

If you feel like your anxiety will only get worse over time if left untreated, you may have a generalized anxiety disorder. It may be easier to treat your condition early on, so go to your doctor before the condition becomes severe.

Pay attention to the signs and symptoms we mentioned above. If your anxiety is causing physical signs like muscle tension, restlessness, fatigue, irritability, and sleep disturbances, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Another sign to visit your doctor is if your anxiety is significantly impacting your ability to carry out normal daily activities. Your healthcare provider can offer guidance and support to help you manage your symptoms effectively.

Anxiety disorders often occur alongside other mental health conditions such as depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Reach out to a healthcare professional, a helpline, or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you feel overwhelmed, unable to cope with your anxiety, or your quality of life is significantly affected, it is important to seek help. Remember, you don’t have to face it alone, and there are treatment options available to help you manage your symptoms.

When you see a doctor for GAD, they can conduct a thorough evaluation, provide an accurate diagnosis, and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment may involve a combination of therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and support resources. The doctor will guide you based on your specific needs and circumstances.

How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is typically treated using a combination of therapeutic approaches and, in some cases, anti-anxiety medications. The treatment plan for GAD may vary depending on the severity of symptoms and the person’s specific needs. Here are some common treatment options:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach for treating GAD. It helps people identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their anxiety. Through CBT, individuals learn coping strategies, relaxation techniques, and problem-solving skills to manage their anxiety symptoms effectively.

Medication: In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications to help manage GAD symptoms. The most commonly prescribed medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which are antidepressant medications. Benzodiazepines may also be prescribed for short-term relief of severe anxiety, but they are generally used with caution due to their potential for dependence and other side effects. An anti-anxiety medication can help keep symptoms under control so that it is easier to focus on therapy.

Relaxation Techniques: Learning and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can help individuals reduce anxiety symptoms. These techniques promote relaxation and help individuals manage stress and anxiety more effectively.

Stress Management: Since stress often exacerbates GAD symptoms, learning stress management techniques can be beneficial. This may involve identifying and avoiding triggers, setting realistic goals, prioritizing tasks, and incorporating stress-reducing activities into daily life, such as exercise, hobbies, and self-care.

Support Groups: Joining support groups or therapy groups specifically for anxiety disorders can provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences, insights, and coping strategies with others who have similar challenges can be empowering and help patients feel less alone.

Lifestyle Modifications: Making positive lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on anxiety symptoms. This includes regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep, and avoiding substances that can worsen anxiety, such as caffeine and alcohol.

Treatment for GAD is highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is recommended to consult with a mental health professional who can assess the specific needs and develop a personalized treatment plan.

Can Anxiety Disorders Lead to Substance Abuse and Addiction?

People with generalized anxiety disorder are at an increased risk for developing substance abuse and addiction. Addiction and mental health conditions often co-occur, and when they do, it is called a dual diagnosis. Patients may struggle with the mental and physical symptoms of both conditions at the same time, causing the person to feel overwhelmed by their situation.

The presence of symptoms like fatigue, irritability, restlessness, and persistent worry can lead some individuals to seek relief through self-medication with substances. People with GAD may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their anxiety symptoms.

Substance use temporarily alleviates anxiety and may provide a sense of relaxation or relief. Some people may feel that drugs or alcohol help them function better in social situations. However, this is just a temporary solution. Over time, this can lead to a reliance on substances to manage anxiety, which can progress into drug dependence and addiction.

GAD often coexists with other mental health conditions such as depression or other anxiety disorders. The presence of multiple disorders can increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction as individuals may turn to substances to cope with the distress caused by these overlapping conditions.

Anxiety disorders and substance abuse can both affect the brain’s neurochemical systems, such as those involving serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Dysregulation of these systems can contribute to both anxiety and addiction, creating a link between the two conditions.

Do take note that while there is a strong association between GAD and substance abuse, not everyone with GAD will develop these issues. Factors such as genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and individual resilience still play a role in determining who is more susceptible to substance abuse and addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with GAD and substance abuse, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Look for a treatment center near you today and get started on the road to recovery.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

 

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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