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What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

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Do you have an excessive concern or a constant state of tension and anxiety throughout the day? Learn the warning signs, symptoms, and treatment options for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

What exactly is GAD (generalized anxiety disorder)?

Everyone has worries from time to time, but if your concerns and anxieties are so persistent that they get in the way of your day-to-day life and prevent you from being able to unwind, you may have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Worrying, anxiousness, and tension are prominent symptoms of GAD.

In contrast to phobias, in which your anxiety is triggered by a particular object or circumstance, the anxiety associated with GAD is more generalized and manifests as a pervasive sense of dread or uneasiness that permeates every aspect of your life. 

This anxiety is not as acute as a panic attack, but it lasts for a much longer period of time, making it difficult to live a regular life and hard to relax. The emotional and physical toll that generalized anxiety disorder takes is significant. It depletes your vitality, prevents you from getting enough rest, and wears your body down.

If you suffer from GAD You could be worried about the same things that other people are, but you give these fears a whole new degree of significance. A thoughtless remark made by a coworker about the state of the economy might develop into a terrifying image of receiving a pink slip any day now. 

A phone call to a friend that is not promptly answered can transform into a concern that the friendship is in jeopardy. Anxiety may be caused by anything as simple as thinking about making it through the day. Even when there is little or nothing to inspire the anxiety and stress that you feel, you go about your activities with an excessive amount of worry and tension.

The outcome will be the same regardless of whether you are aware that your concern is more severe than the circumstances warrant or if you feel that your worrying will protect you in some manner. Your nervous thoughts are impossible to stop thinking. 

They keep going over and over in your brain like a loop, and you can not stop it. But you can break away from the cycle of continuous worrying, learn to quiet your nervous mind, and reclaim your feeling of optimism even though circumstances now seem to be quite overwhelming.

The distinction between normal concern and GAD.

Concerns, apprehensions, and anxieties are all natural responses to situations in life. It is very normal to be nervous about an impending exam or concerned about one’s financial situation after receiving a number of unanticipated invoices. 

The following are characteristics of the worrying that is present in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) that distinguish it from “normal” worrying:

  • Excessive.
  • Intrusive.
  • Persistent.
  • Disruptive.

GAD manifests itself in a variety of ways.

The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may vary from person to person, but the majority of individuals who have this condition encounter a mix of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that often shift and become worse when they are under increased amounts of stress.

The following are examples of emotional symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Your mind is always racing with concerns and anxieties.
  • You have the impression that your anxiety is beyond your control and that there is nothing you can do to stop worrying.
  • Recurring, unwanted thoughts about things that are causing you stress; You make an effort to keep from thinking about them, but you just can not help it.
  • An intolerance for ambiguity; an overwhelming desire to know what is going to take place in the days and weeks ahead.
  • A persistent and all-encompassing sense of dread or anxiety

The following is a list of the behavioral signs of generalized anxiety disorder.

  • Incapacity to unwind, take pleasure in some alone or spend time alone
  • Difficulty concentrating or focussing one’s attention on certain items
  • Putting things off because you are feeling like you can not handle them.
  • Keeping away from things that give you a nervous stomach

The following are some examples of GAD’s physical symptoms:

  • Having feelings of tension; experiencing muscular tension or general bodily discomfort
  • You have problems going asleep or keeping asleep because your mind will not stop thinking about things.
  • Having feelings of agitation, restlessness, or jumpiness
  • Gastrointestinal issues, nausea, and diarrhea
  • Manifestations of GAD in children

When it comes to children, excessive worrying often focuses on things like the future, previous actions, social acceptability, issues pertaining to family, personal skills, and academic success. 

Children and teenagers, in contrast to adults with GAD, are less likely to understand that their level of anxiety is disproportionate to the circumstances around them; thus, it is imperative that adults notice their symptoms. In addition to many of the symptoms that manifest themselves in adults, the following are some warning signs that a kid may have GAD:

  • Concerns based on “what if” scenarios about events in the far future
  • Idealization of oneself to an unhealthy degree, excessive self-criticism, and an intense dread of making errors
  • Believing that they are to fault for any catastrophe, and hoping that their anxiety would prevent any tragedies from taking place
  • The notion that bad luck is infectious and would eventually strike them down too.
  • The constant need for reassurance and authorization
  • The number one self-help suggestion for people with a generalized anxiety disorder is to connect with others.

Tip 1: Assistance from a loved one.

It is important to find someone you can connect with face to face on a regular basis, whether it is your significant other, a family member, or a friend. Social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and diffuse anxiety, so it is important to find someone you can connect with face to face on a regular basis. 

This individual should be someone with whom you can carry on a conversation for an extended amount of time without interruption, someone who will listen to you without passing judgment, offering criticism, or being constantly distracted by the phone or other people.

Create a solid network of support for yourself. We as humans are social animals by nature. We were never intended to exist in complete seclusion. However, having a strong support system does not need having a large number of friends and acquaintances. Do not undervalue the importance of having a small group of individuals in your life who you can rely on and trust to be there for you.

When your issues begin to snowball, having a conversation about them might help. If you start to feel as if your anxiety is getting the better of you, talk to a reliable member of your family or a close friend. Simply discussing your concerns with another person face to face might make them seem less intimidating.

When you are feeling worried, you should be aware of who you should avoid. It is possible that your concerned outlook on life is a product of the environment in which you were raised. No matter how close you are to your mother, if she is a chronic worrier, you should not contact her when you are feeling concerned because she will just make your situation worse. 

Ask yourself if you tend to feel better or worse after talking to that person about an issue after you have spoken to them about a problem while you are choosing who to turn to for help.

Be conscious of the fact that having GAD may hinder your capacity to form meaningful relationships with other people. Anxiety and chronic worry may leave a person feeling needy and insecure, which can wreak havoc on their personal and professional relationships. 

Consider ways in which you often behave when you are concerned, particularly apprehensive about a situation involving a relationship. Do you test your partner? Withdraw? Should you level accusations? Become too possessive? Once you are aware of any relationship patterns that are driven by anxiety, you will be able to seek more effective methods to cope with any anxieties or insecurities that you are currently experiencing.

Tip 2: Figure out how to swiftly calm yourself down.

Even while face-to-face social interaction with another person is the most effective technique to quickly relax your nervous system, it is not always possible to have a buddy nearby who you can count on for support. When faced with circumstances like these, you have the ability to immediately calm yourself and ease feelings of anxiety by using one or more of your bodily senses:

Sight: Look at anything that makes you feel relaxed or brings a smile to your face, such as family photographs, animal images you find online, or breathtaking scenery.

Sound: Play some music, sing your favorite song, or play an instrument to help calm your nerves. Alternatively, unwind with the soothing sounds of nature (either live or recorded) by listening to the ocean waves, the wind in the trees, or the birds chirping.

Smell: Candles with a pleasant aroma should be lit. In a garden, take in the fragrance of the blossoms. Take a deep breath of the pure and pristine air. Spritz on your favorite scent.

Taste: Savor the flavor by nibbling on your go-to sweet delicacy slowly and appreciating every morsel. Take a few sips from a steaming mug of coffee or herbal tea. Take a piece of gum and masticate it. Have a hard candy or a mint, whichever one you choose.

Touch: Massage either your hands or your neck. Cuddle up with a furry friend. Get cozy by wrapping yourself in a warm blanket. Take a seat outdoors to enjoy the fresh air.

Move your body by going on a stroll, jumping up and down, or stretching out softly. It is possible that running, drumming, and dancing are the most effective forms of exercise.

Tip 3: Get up and move about.

Exercising is one of the most effective and natural treatments available for anxiety. It relaxes the muscles, lowers levels of hormones that are released in response to stress, increases levels of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, and physically alters the brain in ways that make it less prone to anxiety and more robust.

If you want the best possible recovery from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you should aim to receive at least half an hour of exercise on most days. Particularly beneficial are activities like walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing, all of which require you to use both your arms and legs simultaneously.

You may increase the advantages of your exercises even further by including elements of mindfulness in them. You may easily add mindfulness, which has been shown to be an effective method for reducing anxiety, into your workout routine. During your exercise, rather of zoning out or concentrating on your thoughts, pay attention to how your body reacts to the different movements. 

Make an effort to become aware of the sensations that are occurring around you, such as the sound of your feet striking the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. Not only will you get more out of your exercise, but you will also be able to break the cycle of worrying thoughts that are always going through your brain.

Tip 4: Consider your concerns from a fresh perspective.

Chronic worrying is the primary symptom of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It is vital to understand what worrying is because of the ideas you have about worrying play a significant role in the onset of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as well as in its maintenance. 

You can have the impression that your concerns originate from the outside world, such as other people, circumstances that are challenging for you, or occurrences that stress you out. But the truth is that worrying is something that we create for ourselves. The external stimulus first sets off the chain of events, but the ongoing conversation in your head is what keeps it going.

When you worry, you are having a conversation with yourself in which you discuss things that you are frightened of or things that may go wrong in the future. You go through the terrifying scenario in your head and consider the myriad of responses and strategies you may use in response to it. 

You are, in effect, attempting to find solutions to issues that have not yet occurred, or, even worse, you are merely fixating on the worst-case situations. All of these concerns could lead you to believe that you are safeguarding yourself by putting together a plan for the worst-case scenario or staying away from potentially harmful circumstances. 

Worrying is counterproductive because it drains your mental and emotional energy without leading to any tangible problem-solving techniques or activities. Worrying is counterproductive because it drains your mental and emotional energy.

How to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy concern

Your fretting will not accomplish anything if you keep thinking about “what if” situations, however.

As soon as you are able to let go of the notion that your worrying is in some way beneficial to you, you will be able to begin dealing with your worry and anxiety in more effective ways. This may require addressing illogical worried ideas, learning how to quit worrying, and learning to embrace uncertainty as a normal part of your existence.

Tip 5: If you suffer from GAD, it is important to practice relaxing

The sense of anxiety is just one aspect of the condition. The “fight or flight” response is the body’s physiological response to the perception of danger. Your heart pounds, you breathe faster, your muscles tense up, and you feel light-headed. When you’re relaxed, the complete opposite happens. 

Your heart rate slows down, you breathe slower and more deeply, your muscles relax, and your blood pressure stabilizes. Since it’s impossible to be anxious and relaxed at the same time, strengthening your body’s relaxation response is a powerful anxiety-relieving tactic.

Effective relaxation techniques for relieving anxiety include:

Deep breathing. When you’re anxious, you breathe faster. This hyperventilation causes symptoms such as dizziness, breathlessness, lightheadedness, and tingly hands and feet. These physical symptoms are frightening, leading to further anxiety and panic. But by breathing deeply from the diaphragm, you can reverse these symptoms and calm yourself down.

Progressive muscle relaxation. It can help you release muscle tension and take a “time out” from your worries. The technique involves systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in your body. As your body relaxes, your mind will follow.

Meditation. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can actually change your brain. With regular practice, meditation boosts activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for feelings of serenity and joy. Try the Ride the Wild Horse meditation, part of HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.

Tip 6: Adopt anxiety-busting habits

A healthy, balanced lifestyle plays a big role in keeping the symptoms of GAD at bay. In addition to regular exercise and relaxation, try adopting these other lifestyle habits to tackle chronic anxiety and worry:

Get enough sleep. Anxiety and worry can cause insomnia, as anyone whose racing thoughts have kept them up at night can attest. But lack of sleep can also contribute to anxiety. When you’re sleep-deprived, your ability to handle stress is compromised. When you’re well-rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety and stopping worry. Improve your sleep at night by changing any daytime habits or bedtime routines that can contribute to sleeplessness.

Limit caffeine. Stop drinking or at least cut back on caffeinated beverages, including soda, coffee, and tea. Caffeine is a stimulant that can trigger all kinds of jittery physiological effects that look and feel a lot like anxiety—from pounding heart and trembling hands to agitation and restlessness. Caffeine can also make GAD symptoms worse, cause insomnia, and even trigger panic attacks.

Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Having a few drinks may temporarily help you feel less anxious, but alcohol actually makes anxiety symptoms worse as it wears off. While it may seem like cigarettes are calming, nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant that leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.

Eat right. Food doesn’t cause anxiety, but a healthy diet can help keep you on an even keel. Going too long without eating leads to low blood sugar—which can make you feel anxious and irritable—so start the day right with breakfast and continue with regular meals. 

Eat plenty of fruits, and vegetables, which stabilize blood sugar and boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter with calming effects. Reduce the number of refined carbs and sugar you eat, too. Sugary snacks and desserts cause blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling emotionally and physically drained.

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder

If you’ve given self-help a fair shot, but still can’t seem to shake your worries and fears, it may be time to see a mental health professional. But remember that professional treatment doesn’t replace self-help. In order to control your GAD symptoms, you’ll still want to make lifestyle changes and look at the ways you think about worrying

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy that is particularly helpful in the treatment of GAD. CBT examines distortions in our ways of looking at the world and ourselves. Your therapist will help you identify automatic negative thoughts that contribute to your anxiety. 

For example, if you catastrophize—always imagining the worst possible outcome in any given situation—you might challenge this tendency through questions such as, “What is the likelihood that this worst-case scenario will actually come true?” and “What are some positive outcomes that are more likely to happen?”.

The five components of CBT for anxiety are:

Education. CBT involves learning about generalized anxiety disorder. It also teaches you how to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful worry. An increased understanding of your anxiety encourages a more accepting and proactive response to it.

Monitoring. You learn to monitor your anxiety, including what triggers it, the specific things you worry about, and the severity and length of a particular episode. This helps you get perspective, as well as track your progress.

Physical control strategies. CBT for GAD trains you in relaxation techniques to help decrease the physical over-arousal of the “fight or flight” response.

Cognitive control strategies. They teach you to realistically evaluate and alter the thinking patterns that contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. As you challenge these negative thoughts, your fears will begin to subside.

Behavioral strategies. Instead of avoiding situations, you fear, CBT teaches you to tackle them head-on. You may start by imagining the thing you’re most afraid of. By focusing on your fears without trying to avoid or escape them, you will feel more in control and less anxious.

Medication for anxiety

Medication for GAD is generally recommended only as a temporary measure to relieve symptoms at the beginning of the treatment process, with therapy as the key to long-term success.

There are three types of medication prescribed for a generalized anxiety disorder:

Buspirone. This anti-anxiety drug, known by the brand name Buspar, is generally considered to be the safest drug for generalized anxiety disorder. Although buspirone will take the edge off, it will not entirely eliminate anxiety.

Benzodiazepines. These anti-anxiety drugs act very quickly (usually within 30 minutes to an hour), but physical and psychological dependence are common after more than a few weeks of use. They are generally recommended only for severe, paralyzing episodes of anxiety.

Antidepressants. The relief antidepressants provide for anxiety is not immediate, and the full effect isn’t felt for up to six weeks. Some antidepressants can also exacerbate sleep problems and cause nausea or other side effects.

If you want to learn more about related topics, check out this article about Alzheimer’s or Dementia diagnosis.