Feeling nervous about life? Having a hard time concentrating or relaxing because you worry all the time? Can't shake the feeling that something bad will happen and you are unprepared? You’re not alone.
If you are in a chronic state of anxiety and stress, you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which can make a person feel constantly worried even when there is little or no reason to. You may worry about missing a deadline, losing a job or a loved one, or having an accident. You may even worry about worrying too much. The stress can become debilitating and can lead to a loss of perspective on your current situation.
Definition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as “6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded, or much more severe than the normal, everyday worry most people experience”. An estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. The disorder can begin at any age, and affects children as well as adults.
The good news is that GAD is treatable.
Symptoms of GAD
People with GAD can't rid themselves of the feeling of worry, even while recognizing that it may be unwarranted. They may be unable to relax and have trouble falling or staying asleep. In addition, they may:
Feel restless, irritable or feel “on edge”
Have a hard time concentrating
Be easily startled
Feel easily tired or exhausted all the time
Have headaches, muscle aches, or stomach aches
Have a hard time swallowing
Tremble or twitch
Feel sweaty, light-headed or out of breath
Feel nauseous or tingling in the extremities
Have to go to the bathroom a lot
Experience hot flashes
Causes and risk factors
Scientists find that anxiety disorders result from a combination of genetic, behavioral, and developmental causes. Risk factors include a family history of anxiety and recent periods of stress. People with certain personality traits, such as shyness, may also be more vulnerable to developing anxiety disorders.
Physiologically, scientists believe that GAD probably arises from over-activation of the brain mechanism responsible for fear and the “fight-or-flight” response. The amygdala is the part of your brain that initiates a response to perceived danger. It communicates with the hypothalamus which then releases hormones that raise your heart rate and blood pressure, tense your muscles, and ready your body to fight or run. According to scientists, in people with GAD, the amygdala may be so sensitive that it overreacts to situations that aren't really threatening, inadvertently provoking an emergency stress response. Over time, anxiety can become attached to thoughts that are not related to true sources of danger - in a sense, “the brain may inadvertently create its own fears”.
How does GAD impact daily life?
All of us worry about everyday things - how we are going to get all our errands done while staying on top of work deadlines; how we’ll pay for the next vacation or the kids’ college education; how we’ll take care of an aging parent or deal with an in-law at the next family holiday. These are all normal.
It’s when this worry becomes uncontrollable, lasts for months at a time, and interferes with our ability to function, that it’s time to seek a behavioral health professional to diagnose potential GAD. Adults who have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder say things like, “I dreaded going to work because I couldn’t keep my mind focused”, or “I was having trouble falling asleep every night because my mind was racing with worry, so I was always tired”, or “I was irritated with my family all the time”.
If you or your loved one are in the military or serve as a first responder, there is already a justifiable amount of things to worry about, such as separation from those you hold dear, frequent moves, or parenting alone while a loved one is deployed; however this worry can sometimes develop into something more. Active duty military as well as veterans can develop anxiety disorder after experiencing trauma, or during high-stress situations, such as the transition from military to civilian life. In fact, the VA stated there was a 327% increase in reported anxiety disorders among service members between 2000 and 2012. Caring for a loved one with anxiety disorder presents its own challenges, and you want to make sure you have the best professional resources available to help.
Children and teens are also susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder. According to NIH, an estimated 31.9% of adolescents have some form of anxiety disorder. Symptoms are identical to adults - excessive, chronic worry plus physical symptoms. Children with GAD tend to dwell about the same things as their non-anxious peers, but do so in excess. They may focus obsessively on things they see in the news, such as forest fires or crime. These worries and symptoms can impair daily functioning, and may cause them to avoid activities that trigger or worsen their feelings of stress, so school work and relationships suffer.
Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD can be treated with a combination of therapy, medication, or both. Speak with a behavioral health professional on how best to approach a treatment that is right for you. In some cases, a healthy lifestyle including good diet, exercise and the right amount of sleep can help reduce symptoms.
Although different techniques may work for different people, a therapist can help you identify new ways of thinking and reacting to situations that help you feel less anxious. You may be advised to track your responses over time to discover potential behavior patterns, or learn techniques to promote relaxation. Both medication and therapy take time to work, so it is recommended to continue with your prescribed regimen and not get discouraged too quickly. This is manageable, and there is help to cope with these feelings. You can feel better.
Feeling like you or a loved one may have some of the anxiety symptoms described here?
Telemynd is a nationally delegated telebehavioral health provider for TRICARE members. You can access licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists from the convenience of your home. You can review benefit coverage or visit our request appointment page to choose your current insurance provider and get started!
NIH | National Institutes of Mental Health: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
American Psychiatric Association: What are Anxiety Disorders?
Harvard Mental Health Letter: Generalized Anxiety Disorder
National Alliance on Mental Health Illness: Anxiety Disorders