Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Are you are constantly worrying about anything and everything for as long as you can remember? If so, then you might want to look into going to a doctor who specializes in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as you could be suffering from it. Although this disorder is also experienced by men, women are the most common sufferers. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.8 million Americans have been diagnosed with it. However, it is not so simple to prove you are suffering from GAD. To begin with, you have to be having symptoms for at least 6 months straight. In fact, patients who are diagnosed with generalized anxiety assert they cannot even remember when they started worrying and it feels to them this is all they have been doing for a very long time.
Somebody who is being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder might have started suffering from it during childhood. A repressed traumatic event, abandonment from one or both parents, violence or abuse are major issues that might trigger the disorder. If these stressful situations are not solved by the time puberty hits, they only intensify and worsen the condition. In fact, during adolescence there are other factors that play an even bigger role in the life of a person, such as peer pressure, school and sport performance, external looks and unhealthy family situations. Once the sufferer reaches adulthood, he/she fears the world and perceives it as a dangerous place to be. Therefore, the constant worrying and stressing out about trivial things begin. But before you go running to a specialist, read through this article and see if the causes and symptoms described sound familiar to you.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Like every anxiety disorder, the first cause of generalized anxiety disorder can be traced back to your great-grandparents. In fact, genetics play a major role in whether or not you suffer from GAD. Chemical imbalance in the nervous system can also be blamed for your sleepless nights. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send messages to nerve cells and if the message does not reach the cells properly, it can cause unbalance which leads to anxiety. Moreover, diseases and health conditions that can affect hormonal levels are also considered a cause for people who suffer from anxiety. The most common health conditions are menopause, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and heart diseases. Use of addictive substances like nicotine, caffeine, drugs and alcohol may also interfere with chemical levels and cause imbalance which could lead to anxiety disorders.
Aside from psychophysical and hereditary causes, generalized anxiety disorder can be majorly provoked by external and environmental factors. If you have experienced one or more of the following traumatic and stressful situations, you might be battling with an anxiety disorder, in particular generalized anxiety:
- Death of someone close to you
- Change of scenery
- Different job/school
- Planning a joyful event (wedding, birthday, baby showers)
Although there are quite a few known causes that trigger generalized anxiety disorder, they are very generic and there is not a specific cause. Scientists and doctors are still looking into studying brain functions that process fear to understand how this feeling is perceived by people who have been diagnosed with this disorder.
What Are the Main Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
A person who is affected by generalized anxiety disorder is constantly worrying about unnecessary, everyday things. From the laundry not being done on time to what to have for dinner, the stress caused by insignificant set-backs can cause major anxiety and concern in a sufferer. Although it starts in the brain, the most common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder have a tremendous effect on the body. In fact, here are some physical consequences you might want to be on look out for:
- Muscle tension
- Blurry vision
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Nausea and stomach cramps
- Hot flashed
- Frequent bladder/bowl movements
- Dry mouth
Alongside these psychophysical symptoms, there are others that might sound familiar to you, such as:
- Problems sleeping
- Constant worrying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Worrying about being on time
- Feeling moody
- Panic attacks
- Feeling of chocking
- Fear of dying
In some cases, the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder become so overwhelming that the sufferer becomes severely depressed. However, before reaching low point, there are many remedies and solutions to try that prevent or help cure the disorder.
Remedies and Cures for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The first thing most doctors suggest is a lifestyle change, if it fits. Do not under-estimate the positive impact that eating healthier and avoiding caffeine can bring to your everyday life. Remember that caffeine is not only found in coffee, but also in cola and chocolate. Because one of the consequences of generalized anxiety disorder is lack of sleeping, a good night rest might just do some magic. Draw yourself a nice long and warm bubbly bath with essential oils, lighten up some sweet and smooth-flavored candles, turn on soft music in the background and just try to relax, thinking about positive thoughts. Doctors even recommend imagining and picturing that the bathtub or the bedroom is a safe place for you to be in, where negative and disturbing thoughts are not allowed to enter. You would be surprised as to how powerful your brain manipulation can be. Also, remember to keep up with exercising because it will help you release endorphins, which are chemicals naturally released by your body that, to put it simply, make you happy.
If the do-it-yourself remedies are not working out for you, try going to a specialized doctor. He might suggest what is known as cognitive–behavioral orientated psychotherapy. The first step of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is psycho-education. Basically the patient is given all the necessary information regarding the disturb, from what causes and triggers it to symptoms and solutions. This allows him/her to feel more at ease with the treatment as it is not perceived anymore as something unknown and hostile. In this phase, the doctor is in control of the treatment and the patient is simply a student.
The next step is what doctors address as self-monitoring. Here the patient needs to take charge of the situation by paying attention on a daily basis as to what triggers anxiety attacks, when they occur and how often. He/she might also have to keep a journal to write down as many details as possible which will later on be helpful to identify the negative sources. The patient is told to postpone the anxious reaction he/she might have to a set time during the day. This way, the sufferer learns how to control his/her own emotions, feels confident about taking charge of his/her life and starting the healing process. Usually, and especially in the initial phases of treatment, doctors and patients will agree to deal with the anxiety in a safe environment that can either be the doctor’s office or the patient’s own house. This way the doctor can introduce natural techniques to try and deal with unpleasant feelings of stress and worry. For example, breathing exercises are considered to be just as important to the success of the therapy as any other component. When a person becomes anxious, he/she starts unconsciously breathing faster and heavier, thus raising the heart beats and blood pressure. Therefore, when patients are taught how to control their breathing, they are also taught how to avoid having dangerous side effects and panic attacks. Meditation is also commonly adopted by physicians who teach their patients how to relax their tense muscles.
After self-monitoring comes self-control desensitization. Once the patient is completely relaxed, the doctor will recreate a stressful situation and wait for the patient to react to it. However, rest assure that this is only practiced in a safe environment as perceived by the sufferer. Patients are verbally guided through different scenarios that cause anxiety and are slowly, but efficiently, shown that they have nothing to fear. Although this technique can take a long time to truly succeed, patients who stick to it will learn new methods of coping with what they consider alarming situations of everyday life and will soon realize there are other shades of color to the famous black or white.
Along with meditation techniques and cognitive behavioral treatment, doctors might recommend taking medications that will help the patient through the early stages of therapy. These medicines might be antidepressant such as Prozac or tranquillizers like Xanax and Valium. The doctors, however, will make sure to prescribe only a small dosage and a reduced quantity of these medications and for a short period of time as their chemical content is quite addictive. In fact, one of the major side effects of being on prescription pills, along with weight gain and sexual performance-related issues, is that many patients, ecstatic by the wonderful and immediate results of these pills, begin to rely on them to feel better when having an attack of generalized anxiety.
To conclude, if you think you might be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, the best thing you can do for your own sake is to recognize you need help. Remember there are millions of people who, just like you, are suffering from an anxiety disorder. The good news though is that there is a lot of help and many people out there willing to lend you a hand.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not have to be interpreted as a professional medical advice.
Behar, DiMarco, Hekler, Mohlman, & Staples. Current theoretical models of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Conceptual review and treatment implications. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23 (2009).
U.S. National Library of Medicine www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov