If a constant swarm of worries keeps circling your mind, you might have a condition called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This can make normal activities more stressful than they need to be. But how can you tell if you're just stressed or have GAD? Here's the lowdown.
We all feel anxious at one point or another – that’s completely normal! For instance, it’s not uncommon to feel nervous before an interview. The same can be said while waiting for medical test results. However, for some, worry and anxiety are constant companions.
If you can’t remember the last time you felt relaxed, you could be suffering from a condition known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This condition usually grows slowly, typically beginning in adolescence or young adulthood. You may find that your symptoms improve or worsen at different times. Unsurprisingly, they generally worsen during stress. People may not realize that they have GAD. As a result, they might seek medical help for associated problems (such as headaches or insomnia) instead of the issue itself.1 2
Wondering if you have GAD? Here are the most prominent symptoms.
Signs And Symptoms
GAD can impact both mental and physical health. As with most conditions, the severity of the symptoms will vary from person to person.
- The key symptom is constant worry even when there is no real reason for tension. Worries can drift from one issue to the other, involving relationships, family, money, health, and work.3 Usually, people worry about a specific number of realistic things for a short period. But when it comes to GAD, worries are uncontrollable and impede normal activities, job responsibilities, and social life.4
- In GAD, always feeling on edge is typical. It can cause a sense of restlessness and dread.
- You may experience troubled concentration and irritable feelings.
- You might become socially withdrawn, avoiding interaction with friends and family to spare yourself worry. Going to work feels unnaturally stressful, often compelling you to take time off.
- You could also experience a variety of physical symptoms like tiredness, dizziness, and an irregular heartbeat. Additional ailments include headaches, muscle aches, and stomach aches.
- Excessive sweating, shortness of breath, dry mouth, and trembling can also develop.
- You might also have trouble falling asleep, further contributing to your anxiety and stress.5
Generally, a constant stream of worry for at least six months is enough to warrant a GAD diagnosis. However, if your anxiety is affecting your daily life, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. He or she may perform tests to ensure that other conditions like anemia or hyperthyroidism aren’t causing your symptoms.
Other mental health issues like depression can also cause similar symptoms.6 Although the feelings of depression (sadness and hopelessness) and anxiety (worry and fear) are different, many people have both. In fact, about 66 percent of people with GAD also have major depression. And about 2 percent of those with GAD have panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.7 Therefore it is important to see a doctor to get the right diagnosis and proper treatment.
What Causes GAD?
While researchers still don’t understand what causes GAD, a combination of various factors could be at play.
- GAD, like other anxiety disorders, likely develops from the overactivation of the brain’s “fight or flight” response. This basic mechanism controls fear. It involves the amygdala, the part of the brain that is crucial for emotional processing. In people with anxiety disorders, the amygdala may overreact, triggering an emergency response to things that aren’t actually threatening. Over time, anxiety may become linked to memories, thoughts, and situations that are not related to actual danger.8
- An imbalance in serotonin and noradrenaline may also contribute to GAD. These are brain chemicals that are responsible for the regulation of mood.
- Genetics may have a role, too. It is estimated that you’re five times more prone to develop GAD if a close blood relative has it. Specifically, it has been suggested that a variation in the 5-HTT gene, which is responsible for serotonin regulation, may play a role.9
- Traumatic or stressful experiences like child abuse, domestic violence, bullying, or a history of substance abuse may make you vulnerable to GAD.
- Chronic and painful illnesses (like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, or fibromyalgia) may make you susceptible to this condition.10
- Research also indicates that for some, the excessive worries linked to GAD could be a way of avoiding a deeper issue. In these case, dealing with this issue would automatically address the generalized anxiety.11
Keep in mind that people who are not exposed to any of these factors can still develop GAD.
What Can You Do About It?
Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two is usually used to treat GAD. Here are a few things that you could do to address anxiety:
Seek Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy usually used to treat GAD. It can help you understand how your thoughts affect behavior, giving you the tools to manage panic-inducing thoughts.
Take Care of Yourself: Simple healthy habits like adequate sleep, a consistent daily schedule, exercise, and a balanced diet can manage your condition. It also helps to get some fresh air for at least a few minutes each day. Talking to friends and family when you feel anxious or nervous is another excellent idea. Avoid alcohol and drug use, as these substances can worsen your condition.
Join A Support Group: Sharing your problems with others who have similar experiences can work wonders. However, don’t forget that a support group can’t act as a substitute for psychotherapy or medication.12 13
Practice Yoga: Yoga is another activity that may help. A study found that participants undergoing conventional treatment for GAD benefited from practicing yoga breathing techniques (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga). They showed significant improvements in both worry and physical symptoms of GAD. Yoga may thus be your answer to breathing easy.14
Meditate: Meditation can also be a powerful addition to cognitive behavior therapy. In one study, a meditation program was developed to address anxiety. It included body scan meditation, a process that includes focusing your attention on one part of the body at a time, from bottom to top. The program also included sitting meditation and hatha yoga. Participants practiced for at least half an hour a day for eight weeks. At the end of the period, their worry, tension, and depressive symptoms significantly decreased.15
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Generalised anxiety disorder in adults. National Health Service.|
|2, 11.||↑||Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): When Worry Gets Out of Control, National Institutes of Health.|
|3, 7, 8, 9.||↑||Generalized anxiety disorder, Harvard Health Publications.|
|4.||↑||Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Helpguideorg International.|
|5.||↑||Generalised anxiety disorder in adults – Symptoms, National Health Service.|
|6.||↑||Generalised anxiety disorder in adults – Diagnosis, National Health Service.|
|10.||↑||Generalised anxiety disorder in adults, National Health Service.|
|12.||↑||Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): When Worry Gets Out of Control. National Institutes of Health.|
|13.||↑||Generalized anxiety disorder – self-care, National Institutes of Health.|
|14.||↑||Katzman, Martin A., Monica Vermani, Patricia L. Gerbarg, Richard P. Brown, Christina Iorio, Michele Davis, Catherine Cameron, and Dina Tsirgielis. “A multicomponent yoga-based, breath intervention program as an adjunctive treatment in patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder with or without comorbidities.” International journal of yoga 5, no. 1 (2012): 57.|
|15.||↑||Evans, Susan, Stephen Ferrando, Marianne Findler, Charles Stowell, Colette Smart, and Dean Haglin. “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder.” Journal of anxiety disorders 22, no. 4 (2008): 716-721.|