Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Approximately 40 million Americans struggle with an anxiety disorder each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Within the spectrum of anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most prevalent, affecting about 2% of adults. If GAD is not addressed and managed it can take a significant toll on both psychological and physical wellness. Interventions to help control the symptoms of GAD include psychotherapy, medication and holistic therapies.
About Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD is characterized by irrational feelings of worry, fear, and dread that are out of proportion to the situation at hand. Examples of the events that cause the anxiety response include such everyday matters as relationship issues, finances, work-related problems, health conditions, or family problems. The exaggerated and chronic worrying can result in an inability to function at basic daily tasks. Impairment in functioning then leads to disruption in all aspects of life, including career, relationships, and health.
When someone struggles with anxiety there is a heightened fight or flight response, which triggers production of cortisol and adrenaline. The fear response causes a sensory processing issue in the brain resulting in disruption of executive functions like emotion regulation, impulse control, and reasoning.
The cause of GAD is thought to be due to such factors as genetics, brain chemistry or functioning issues, personality, a history of trauma or abuse, chronic medical illnesses, and thought distortions that affect the way threats are perceived.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms associated with GAD include:
6.8 million adults are affected by GAD in any given year
of those affected had moderate impairment
estimated to have generalized anxiety disorder
Effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Thought distortions that result in paralyzing anxiety can have a significant impact on the quality of life. Always fearing the worst-case scenario may result in disruptions in all areas of life. For example, instead of pursuing new career opportunities or a new relationship, self-defeating negative thoughts may cause avoidance behaviors and missed opportunities. Lack of quality sleep and difficulty concentrating can lead to a decline in work performance, and constant worrying and irrational thoughts can impact interpersonal relationships.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms are also detrimental to physical health. Some of the negative health effects of GAD include:
Depression is also a common comorbidity with anxiety. If there is co-occurring depression it should be managed alongside the GAD.
Treatment For Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder can be successfully managed using a multi-pronged approach. Treatment elements include:
Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy for GAD usually involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is effective in helping individuals identify distorted or irrational thoughts and the maladaptive behavioral responses to them. CBT then guides the individual toward replacing those dysfunctional thoughts with positive self-messaging resulting in constructive, productive behaviors.
Medication. Some of the possible medications for treating symptoms of GAD include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication (benzodiazepines), or anti-psychotic medications, which will help to adjust brain chemistry and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Holistic interventions. Complementary holistic activities can help ease stress in patients with GAD. There are a variety of holistic activities to select from, including:
Nutrition and exercise. Establishing healthy lifestyle habits, including regular exercise, a Mediterranean style diet, and reducing sugar, caffeine, and alcohol will help contribute to reduced stress levels and better sleep quality.
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