Between our jobs, relationships, parenting, and other circumstances beyond our control, anxiety can be a part of life. However, when the anxiety we feel is not in response to stressful circumstances and instead is pervasive and ongoing, it can be a sign of something more significant. Many Americans struggle with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which often starts in childhood. GAD is defined as excessive, chronic worrying that lasts upwards of six months.
You may think that anxiousness is just a personality quirk, but there are signs to watch out for that may indicate a need for outside help. You don’t have to live with chronic anxiety in every aspect of life. This disorder can be managed with various forms of psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and coping skills.
What Are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
The symptoms of GAD vary from person to person, but some of the most common include:
- Chronic, pervasive worrying about things that are beyond your control to solve
- Overthinking plans, imagining the worst possible outcomes
- Perceiving threats to your safety when there aren’t any
- Inability to handle uncertainty about the future
- Difficulty making decisions, no matter how small
- Fear of making the wrong decision
- Inability to relax and let go of worries, no matter how minor
- Difficulty concentrating or feeling like your mind is perpetually “blank”
The signs of GAD aren’t just mental. Some physical symptoms include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep
- Muscle tension, particularly in the jaw or shoulders
- Inability to sit still
- Being easily startled
- Chronic sweating
- Nausea or irritable bowels
One or a combination of these symptoms may not indicate GAD. However, if you find that your work, school, relationships, or ability to participate in social situations are negatively affected, that could be a sign of anxiety disorder.
What Are the Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
GAD is a complex mental health disorder that can develop from a number of factors, both environmental and biological. The most common causes of GAD include:
- Changes in brain function or chemistry
- Genetics and family background
- Personality and childhood development
Are There Risk Factors Associated With Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Women are more commonly diagnosed with GAD than men. The reason for this is not entirely known, but one possibility is that there is a stigma for men to conceal their emotions, making it more challenging to reach out for help.
Other factors commonly associated with GAD, regardless of sex, include:
- Personality: A naturally shy person who avoids situations that involve a degree of risk may be more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than others.
- Genetics: GAD tends to run in families, particularly those with generational trauma.
- Experiences: People with a history of negative or traumatic experiences may develop anxiety later in life. They may also be at risk for depression, which can go hand-in-hand with anxiety.
When Should I Seek Help for Anxiety?
Some amount of anxiety is normal; life can be challenging. However, you may want to consider seeking help if:
- Your worries or fears are interfering with your ability to focus in class, at work, or be present for the people you love
- You are constantly anxious, irritable, or depressed
- You are turning to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism for your symptoms
- You have recurring thoughts of suicide or self-harm
While life is full of ups and downs, chronic worries like this are unlikely to go away on their own. If left untreated, they can get worse with time. It’s essential to seek treatment before the symptoms become severe enough to affect your life negatively.
How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?
Your doctor may start by asking some general questions about your medical history and possibly include a physical exam to rule out other conditions causing your symptoms. Lab tests alone don’t diagnose anxiety, but they can reveal other medical issues that may be causing symptoms like nausea, inability to relax or focus, etc. Once your assessment is finished, your doctor may recommend one or a combination of therapies and request a follow-up appointment in six months to track your progress.
Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
If GAD is not triggered by an underlying medical condition, you may be referred to a psychiatrist for further treatment. Mental health professionals are trained to diagnose and treat GAD with multiple different therapies and advise on how to change some of your lifestyle habits. Believe it or not, changes in diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can make a big difference in how you feel about life and your place in the world.
Other treatments for GAD may include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you recognize negative thought patterns that dictate behavior. By learning how to “turn around” distorted thinking, you can learn how to approach your fears in a more helpful, realistic way. Feelings can be powerful, but they don’t have to dictate your choices. Some people with anxiety find individual therapy helpful, while others may join support groups. Either option is beneficial for recovery.
A prescription medication won’t make anxiety disappear, but it can help ease symptoms like chronic worry or fear. Some of these prescriptions are meant to be taken on a short-term basis as needed or may be prescribed as a long-term regimen.
Anxiety is more than just an unpleasant emotion. Left unchecked, it can grow like a neglected shrub, taking over more space than is healthy. You may think you’re just an “anxious person,” and that’s part of who you are, but the truth is you don’t have to live that way. Chronic, pervasive worries, fears, and indecisiveness can negatively impact your work, school, personal relationships, and overall physical health. Fortunately, there is help available. The knowledgeable, compassionate staff at Crownview Co-Occurring Institute will work with you to help find the right treatment for your symptoms. Whether treatment includes medication, therapy, or a combination of both, our client testimonials are proof that our methods work. We don’t just treat your symptoms; we treat the whole person. To learn more about our treatment program and how we can help you, call Crownview Co-Occurring Institute today at (760) 477-4754.