What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Although the word “anxiety” is thrown around very often these days, the difference between feeling anxious and having Generalized Anxiety Disorder is profound. You might be wondering if you are experiencing a normal level of stress and worry. Or perhaps you worry if you should start seeking professional help. People with a non-clinical level of anxiety can benefit from mental health support. However, there are certain signs and symptoms you should look out for.
The basic symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder are fairly straightforward. You may find it difficult to control your worries, or persistently worrying about a multitude of different events, tasks, or outcomes. Difficulty with focus or concentration is another landmark of this disorder. Even the most simple of tasks, like taking out the trash or your daily commute, can feel insurmountable. In addition, you might feel nervous or irritable. People with this disorder might also describe themselves as feeling “on edge.”
Feelings of Dread, Danger, and Panic
Beyond simply feeling anxious, this disorder is characterized by deeper and more pervasive worry and specific thoughts or beliefs that are difficult to control. For example, people may believe that their obsessive worrying can prevent bad things from happen. Although they might understand that they worry more than other people, that awareness isn’t enough to ease their feelings of impending doom. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder might maintain a near-constant level of panic, and a fear that they are always in danger.
There are also many physical symptoms to watch for. Increased heart rate and rapid breathing are at the top of the list. People diagnosed may also experience sweating, trembling, or feeling weak. Sleep difficulties like having trouble falling asleep or tiring easily are common. People may find themselves in physical pain as well; stomachaches, headaches, or muscle aches are associated symptoms.
Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder
For any of these symptoms to aid a practitioner in diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder in a patient, they must be difficult to control most days for at least six months. Their symptoms must also interfere in their daily life. For example, someone going through a stressful period at work might experience insomnia, sweating, or difficulty focusing. However, the anxiety passes once the difficult period is over. On the other hand, someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder will feel this way regardless of their circumstances. They will find it difficult to ever get a break from their anxious thoughts. They will feel like the worry cycle is uncontrollable. Scientists and researchers do believe that your family of origin, stressful life experiences, and even certain biological factors can increase your risk of this disorder.
How Common is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
About 6.8 million adults in the United States are affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is about 3.1% of the population. Women are two times more likely to be diagnosed than men. The rates of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in children and adolescents are estimated to be between 2.9% and 4.6%. Although there is not much research on how race and ethnicity affect a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, Asian Americans are the least likely to be affected. This is compared to any other racial or ethnic group. Young adults between 18 and 29 years of age have the highest rates; symptoms tend to decrease with age.
If you have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, your doctor will likely recommend a combination of psychotherapy and medication as a course of treatment. There are many different modalities of psychotherapy. The most commonly employed psychotherapy technique for treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This method emphasizes specific skills to manage and better understand anxious thoughts. Another increasingly popular psychotherapy treatment is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. This emphasizes mindfulness and tolerating distress. Also popular is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which targets past traumatic experiences that may be affecting present-day worries or fears.
There are also choices when it comes to medications that doctors might prescribe. These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI). Doctors may also prescribe buspirone or benzodiazepine.
Want to learn more about Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
There are multiple healthcare, professional, and non-profit organizations that provide resources and education surrounding this disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a singular focus on those above mentioned disorders. The American Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association offer a wider variety of publications and resources for professionals and laypeople alike. As the lead federal agency for research on mental health disorders, the National Institute of Mental Health has a wide variety of resources available. Finally, the National Institute on Mental Illness or Mental Health America might be of interest for their peer support groups.
Final Thoughts about Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The worries that affect people diagnosed with this disorder can be overwhelming and scary. However, knowing that they are not alone and that they have many options for treatment along with supportive resources makes the road to recovery much less daunting.