Generalized anxiety disorder affects nearly 7 million adults in America today. The disorder has been observed in twice as many females as males and can begin at any age. But childhood to middle age has been observed as the riskiest range. When a person spends half a year or more severely worried about daily problems, that person would likely be diagnosed as having generalized anxiety disorder.
However, the disorder (commonly referred to by the acronym GAD) hardly ever occurs alone. When GAD is accompanied by alcohol or substance abuse, the addiction has to be treated first before GAD can be sufficiently addressed.
Most people who experience frequent panic attacks describe a lingering background generalized anxiety that stays with them long after the panic attack is over. Panic attacks are not spontaneous, random experiences. They are rooted in an underlying general anxiety that acts as the feeding ground for them to occur. Some people claim the attacks come totally out of the blue, but in fact on closer examination the person is usually already feeling an above average level of generalized anxiety before the panic attack begins. It is this generalized anxiety that we are going to tackle in this chapter.
Many individuals who experience frequent panic attacks often report that they feel themselves to be in a constant state of generalized anxiety, floating between 6 and 7 almost everyday. They wake in the morning with the anxiety and go to bed with the same feeling of unease. It is almost as if their body is stuck on a permanent setting of high anxiety.This permanent tension in the mind and body leads to troublesome sensations.
Three of the behavioral symptoms associated with GAD are:
* Inability to relax
* Easily distracted, cannot concentrate
* Startles easily, jumpy or on edge
The physical symptoms of GAD are:
* Muscle pain and tension
* Hot flashes
* Shortness of breath
* Inability to swallow easily
* Tremors or twitches
* Frequent urinating or bowel movement
It also often happens that GAD is accompanied by other types of anxiety disorders, which are generally treated with behavioral therapy and medication.
In general, anxiety disorders are treated with medication, specific types of psychotherapy, or both. Treatment choices depend on the problem and the person’s preference. Before treatment begins, a doctor must conduct a careful diagnostic evaluation to determine whether a person’s symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or a physical problem. Treatment options includes:
Medications – Medication will not cure anxiety disorders, but it can keep them under control while the person receives psychotherapy.
Antidepressants – Antidepressants were developed to treat depression but are also effective for anxiety disorders. Although these medications begin to alter brain chemistry after the very first dose, their full effect requires a series of changes to occur; it is usually about 4 to 6 weeks before symptoms start to fade.
SSRIs – Some of the newest antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. SSRIs alter the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which, like other neurotransmitters, helps brain cells communicate with one another.
Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor, to discover what caused an anxiety disorder and how to deal with its symptoms.
If you think you have an anxiety disorder, the first person you should see is your family doctor. A physician can determine whether the symptoms that alarm you are due to an anxiety disorder, another medical condition, or both.