It’s normal for you to feel a little anxiety if things are not going so great in your life at the moment. You’re not sure how things are going to work out and there may be the potential for the situation to get worse before it gets better. Yet, when worry and anxiety seem to dominate your every thought and you’re always expecting the worst to happen without any real cause, you may not be just situationally agitated. You may actually have a clinical condition called ‘generalized anxiety disorder’, or GAD. This disorder can have many signs and symptoms that you may think are originating from something else, but GAD can begin to interfere with your daily life and become socially limiting. Let me tell you all about it.
Could Your Symptoms be GAD?
Generalized anxiety disorders can have many symptoms and signs. Left untreated, it can even worsen into full blown panic attacks that can land you in an emergency room requiring medical attention. GAD is a fairly common condition, however, with over 4 million Americans afflicted by it at some point in their life.
The origins of GAD most commonly start in childhood, or adolescence, during transition periods, but can also come on in adulthood with certain stressors. It tends to affect women more than men and can be a confusing condition as it causes real, physical symptoms which can include the following:
1. Excessive worry and/or tension
2. Magnifying things out of proportion
3. Easily startled and/or a feeling of trembling
4. Irritability, muscle tension, feeling “edgy”
5. Chronic fatigue, trouble getting to sleep
6. Difficulty concentrating
7. Headaches, sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeat, intestinal upsets
8. Need to use bathroom frequently
9. Drinking, substance abuse to deal with symptoms
The Causes of GAD
Often, GAD accompanies transition times of life – such as childhood into adolescence, adolescence into adulthood, adulthood into advancing years during menopause or andropause. Many people who have GAD also suffer from depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or panic disorder. Yet, chronic anxiety disorder may also have a real, physical basis for its onset. Sometimes, disorders of the adrenal glands can cause them to chronically over-secrete adrenalin. You may even be very sensitive to caffeine and getting too much of it in your diet. This can also heighten generalized anxiety. Once diagnosed, these physical roots of GAD can usually be easily remedied and your symptoms relieved.
However, there are also other causes of GAD, like your particular brain chemistry that can take a little longer to straighten out. You may have a deficiency in certain neurotransmitters like serotonin/endorphins which are “feel good” brain chemicals. You could also have a hereditary form of GAD that may involve brain chemistry, or other physical issues, forming the roots of GAD. Most commonly, though, GAD is a condition that grows out of certain stressors associated with your life. They most commonly center on the “loss of security” through the loss of a loved one from either death or divorce. Even the loss of a job, and/or your home, can set GAD symptoms into motion. The symptoms can start to hamper participation in your activities of daily living and even cause you to start developing panic attacks when you must interact in social situations.
What’s The Treatment for GAD?
Often, GAD symptoms – especially muscle tension – can be relieved by simple measures like exercise or practicing stress management techniques such as meditation or yoga. Give yourself an hour to just do nothing. Play soothing, calming music, sit on the floor, or your favorite chair, and perform deep breathing exercises and let your mind wander to a happy place. Also, push yourself to get out with friends and socialize at least once a week. Isolating yourself can worsen symptoms and lead to panic attacks when you do go out.
Be sure to also cut down/or out caffeine sources as too much caffeine can over-tax your adrenal glands as well. Your diet should contain adequate amounts of B vitamins, particularly B12. Deficiencies can cause your nervous system to not work properly and for your nerves to feel more jangled. If your GAD symptoms came on after a traumatic life event, seeking counseling with someone skilled in these events can help you process the trauma better.
Life has many stressful events that can leave you feeling helpless. Learning to not allow them to overwhelm you can help alleviate generalized anxiety symptoms. Remember, even though GAD symptoms can be uncomfortable, it is not usually a life-threatening condition. If these measures don’t help, behavioral therapy and/or medications in the form of a light tranquilizer/relaxant can also be temporary options.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.