Twice as many women
Everybody has some kind of anxiety, whether it has to do with money, health or family problems. People with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, go through the day filled with worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about health issues, money, family problems, or difficulties at work. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. When their anxiety level is mild, people with GAD can function socially and hold down a job. Although they don’t avoid certain situations as a result of their disorder, people with GAD can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities if their anxiety is severe. GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults, including twice as many women as men. The disorder develops gradually and can begin at any point in the human life cycle, although the years of highest risk are somewhere between childhood and middle age.
Trouble falling asleep
It’s normal to worry about certain things, but if those worries begin to interfere with your day-to-day life, and you feel tense and worried more often than not, you may have generalized anxiety disorder. People with GAD may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, suffer from muscle tension and find themselves getting tired easily. Irritability, trouble with concentration, restlessness and shortness of breath are other possible signs of GAD, as are trembling, dry mouth and dizziness. Someone who feels tense most of the time and suffers from these symptoms should contact a medical professional to make sure there isn’t something other than anxiety causing them. Certain medications, as well as an overactive thyroid, can cause the same symptoms. A physician can examine the patient and, with the help of a medical history, determine the exact cause of the problem and help him or her come up with a possible solution.
Can run in families
Generalized anxiety disorder can run in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it and others don’t. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety. By learning more about fear and anxiety in the brain, scientists may be able to create better treatments. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors may play a role. It is important to seek help for this kind of anxiety disorder because left untreated, GAD can negatively affect a person’s way of life. For example, some people who suffer from recurring panic attacks avoid any situation that they fear may trigger an attack. People who suffer from an untreated anxiety disorder can also suffer from other psychological disorders, such as depression, and they have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and other drugs, leading to strained relationships with family members, friends and coworkers.
An alarm is going off
Imagine there’s a fire alarm going off in your house. You may arrive at the scene to find there is no fire, that the alarm is simply not working properly. With someone with generalized anxiety disorder, there’s always a fire alarm going off, regardless of whether or not there’s a fire. The goal of treating someone with GAD is helping them function on a daily basis. A combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication has been found to work best for people with GAD. Two types of medications are commonly used to treat GAD, anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. Through cognitive therapy, patients learn to understand how their thoughts contribute to their symptoms, and how to change those thought patterns to reduce the likelihood of occurrence and the intensity of reaction. The patient’s increased awareness is often combined with behavioral techniques to help the individual confront and tolerate situations that increase their anxiety.
Coping skills are an important part of treating generalized anxiety disorder. Try not to dwell on what “might” happen but focus more on what’s really happening. Then let go of the worry and go on with your day. Be sure to keep a regular daily schedule and get out of the house every day. Eat healthy and exercise every chance you get. Even a little bit of exercise, like a 15-minute walk, can help. Try to get plenty of sleep, because sleep rests your brain as well as your body, and can improve your general sense of well being and your mood. And avoid the use of caffeine, which can increase your sense of anxiety because it stimulates your nervous system. A mental health professional can help you make a plan to cope with anxiety. Counseling can help improve how you handle stress and manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t interfere with your enjoyment of life. The most important thing is to take action, because action can help you gain control over your anxiety.
Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.