Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by excessive worrying. Sufferers worry even when there is no reason to worry and often expect the worse possible outcome. It is estimated that 5 percent of the U.S. population will experience symptoms of GAD sometime in their life. Even though this is a common anxiety disorder, it is still misunderstood. The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about GAD.
How Can I Tell the Difference Between Worrying and Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Everyone worries at some time or another. You may worry about an upcoming job interview, worry about your child’s health, a fight you had with your spouse, finances or health. For most people, these worries do not interfere with their life. They can put their worries into perspective and move on when the situation is resolved. But for those with GAD, worries are excessive. According to the diagnostic criteria, a person with GAD worries about problems excessively, everyday for at least six months.
If I Have GAD, Will I Always Have It?
GAD is considered to be a chronic condition. Many people diagnosed with GAD report they have felt anxious and experienced periods of excessive worry most of their life, often beginning in childhood. Symptoms of GAD can come and go, usually worsening during periods of stress in your life. While this is considered a chronic and uncurable condition, there are treatments that can help you manage your symptoms and learn to process information differently and live a normal life.
Are There Physical Symptoms of GAD?
Anxiety disorders can cause a number of physical symptoms. You may feel weak, dizzy, run-down. You may experience heart palpitations, chest pains or shortness of breath during times of high anxiety. Those with GAD often worry these symptoms signal a serious health condition and may be diagnosed with anxiety only after seeking medical help for the physical symptoms. If you are experiencing physical symptoms, it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions. If there are not, you can focus on treating your anxiety.
What Are Some of the Common Symptoms of GAD?
Excessive worrying is one of the main symptoms of GAD, other symptoms include:
- Imagining the worst possible outcome to a given situation
- Problems sleeping
- Physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, stomachaches or muscle soreness
- Feeling as if you have a lump in your throat
- Trouble concentrating
- Being easily startled
What Causes GAD?
While the exact cause of GAD and other anxiety disorders is still being explored, we now understand that anxiety disorders often run in families and they are biological in nature, that is they are not just an "emotional" illness but there are specific brain processes that are present in those with anxiety disorders. Some of the risk factors for developing GAD include your genetics and brain chemistry but may also include life experiences and personality as well.
How is GAD Treated?
Treatment for GAD, much like other anxiety disorders, often includes a combination of medication and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be more effective, in the long-term, in treating GAD. Most courses of CBT last from 12 to 16 weeks, although some people may require a longer course of treatment. Some people choose to use medication along with this therapy, especially during the early stages of treatment, so they are better able to focus on the therapy. You can work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you. While treatment does not "cure" GAD, it does help you learn new ways of behaving and thinking so you can better manage your worrying and feelings of anxiety.
"Anxiety Disorders Fact Sheet," Reviewed 2010, April 15, Reviewed by Catherine Roca, M.D., WomensHealth.gov
"Frequently Asked Questions," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Anxiety and Depression Association of America
"Generalized Anxiety Disorder," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Boston’s Children Hospital
"Understanding Generalised Anxiety Disorder, 2008, Author Unknown, World Federation for Mental Health
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.