Anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is much more than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. It's chronic and exaggerated worry and tension, even though nothing seems to provoke it. Having this disorder means always anticipating disaster, often worrying excessively about health, money, family, or work. Sometimes, though, the source of the worry is hard to pinpoint. Simply the thought of getting through the day provokes anxiety.

People with GAD can't seem to shake their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. People with GAD also seem unable to relax. They often have trouble falling or staying asleep. Their worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, especially trembling, twitching, muscle tension, headaches, irritability, sweating, or hot flashes. They may feel lightheaded or out of breath.

Many individuals with GAD startle more easily than other people. They tend to feel tired, have trouble concentrating, and sometimes suffer depression, too.

Usually the impairment associated with GAD is mild and may feel nauseated or have to go to the bathroom frequently. Or they might feel as though they have a lump in the throat.

People with the disorder don't feel too restricted in social settings or on the job. Unlike many other anxiety disorders, people with GAD don't characteristically avoid certain situations as a result of their disorder. However, if severe, GAD can be very debilitating, making it difficult to carry out even the most ordinary daily activities.

GAD comes on gradually and most often hits people in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It's more common in women than in men and often occurs in relatives of affected persons. It's diagnosed when someone spends at least 6 months worried excessively about a number of everyday problems.

In general, the symptoms of GAD seem to diminish with age. Successful treatment may include a medication called buspirone. Research into the effectiveness of other medications, such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants, is ongoing. Also useful are cognitive–behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and biofeedback to control muscle tension.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience. People with this disorder usually expect the worst; they worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even when there are no signs of trouble. They are unable to relax and often suffer from insomnia. Many people with GAD also have physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches, irritability, or hot flashes. Fortunately, through research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), effective treatments have been developed to help people with GAD.

How Common is GAD?

About 3 to 4% of the U.S. population has GAD during the course of a year. GAD most often strikes people in childhood or adolescence, but can begin in adulthood, too. It affects women more often than men.

What Causes GAD?

Some research suggests that GAD may run in families, and it may also grow worse during stress. GAD usually begins at an earlier age and symptoms may manifest themselves more slowly than in most other anxiety disorders.

What Treatments Are Available for GAD?

Treatments for GAD include medications, cognitive–behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and biofeedback to control muscle tension. Successful treatment may include a medication called buspirone. Research into the effectiveness of other medications, such as benzodiazapines and antidepressants, is ongoing.

Can People with GAD Also Have Other Physical and Emotional Illnesses?

Research shows that GAD often coexists with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Other conditions associated with stress, such as irritable bowel syndrome, often accompany GAD. Patients with physical symptoms such as insomnia or headaches should also tell their doctors about their feelings of worry and tension. This will help the patient's health care provider to recognize that the person is suffering from GAD.

Do these symptoms cause you significant distress and interfere with your normal functioning? There are many helpful interventions that can eliminate or significantly reduce these symptoms of anxiety. Please call Cascade Center's EAP for an appointment: 1–800–433–2320.