Life can be stressful, and most people may feel anxious time to time. But for some, the fear and worry is not a temporary feeling. In fact, the anxiety associated with anxiety disorder is excessive, persistent, and unrealistic. Imagine not being able to control the worry or worrisome thought so much that it’s hard to perform at work or school, or even carry out simple, routine tasks. Imagine expecting something bad to happen when there is no apparent reason for concern.
This describes a condition called generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S.
Who gets GAD?
Most cases of GAD begin in early adulthood, though it can occur in children and older adults. Women are affected more than men. The exact cause of GAD is not known; however, family background, and having stressful life experiences, or even traumatic events as a child or as an adult (e.g., physical or sexual abuse, neglect, alcoholism/addiction), may also be contributing factors.
This condition is more commonly seen in people who also suffer from depression. And more than 35% of people with GAD may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to relieve their anxiety.
What are the signs and symptoms?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5™), GAD symptoms include excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities—and occurs more days than not for at least 6 months. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms:
- Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge.
- Being easily fatigued.
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
- Muscle tension.
- Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).
In GAD, the anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause distress, and impair social, occupational, or other important areas of life. These symptoms cannot be caused by another medical condition.
If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, a good first step is to speak to your doctor.
How is it treated?
Treatment for GAD generally includes psychotherapy (such as counseling or behavioral therapy), medication, or both. Work with your healthcare team to create a treatment plan that best suits you—then stick with it. If a medication is prescribed, it’s important to take it as directed. Be sure to keep your medical appointments as well.
Keeping a healthy, balanced lifestyle can also be beneficial. Some lifestyle changes that can help manage GAD symptoms include:
- Relaxation techniques to help calm you down.
- Exercise. Go for a walk, jog, do yoga, dance, or just get moving.
- Limiting caffeine, especially caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea. Caffeine can trigger anxiety symptoms and interfere with your sleep.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
- Eating healthy and balanced meals. Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Talking to friends or family or a support group.
- Keeping regular sleep habits.
Matthieu Boucher, PhD is a pharmacologist and the global lead for Psychiatry & Central Nervous System publications at Pfizer, Inc.
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