13 Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There is no shortage of things to worry about in today’s world.
Health, finances, work, family and the seemingly constant barrage of disheartening national and world events are but a few of the things that can weigh on us and cause occasional anxiety. It’s an unfortunate, albeit normal part of life.
However, for some people this anxiety is constantly shifting into overdrive. They find it difficult to control their worry. This creates a never-ending state of fear, dread, and anticipation of the worse possible outcome for many aspects of their lives.
Worrywart is the non-medical term sometimes used to label to such folks. But that belies the seriousness of a disorder that can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life.
When persistent and excessive worry interferes with daily activities, a mental health condition known as generalized anxiety disorder may be diagnosed.
Roughly 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, are affected by this disorder in any given year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Mental health experts believe biological factors, family background and stressful life experience could play a role in bringing on generalized anxiety disorder. However, an exact cause has not been pinpointed.
The good news is that this disorder can be treated, and people with it can learn to manage their condition and live normal lives.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms
The nearly 7 million people who experience this disorder each year are only the ones we know about. Experts think the number could be higher because many people have the disorder but live quietly with it.
In fact, anxiety disorders are thought to be so prevalent and underreported that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force earlier this year recommended that people ages 19 to 64 should be screened for them.
In the absence of a screening, how might one know if they’re experiencing generalized anxiety disorder? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with this disorder may:
- Worry excessively about everyday things
- Have trouble controlling their worries or feelings of nervousness
- Know that they worry much more than they should
- Feel restless and have trouble relaxing
- Have a hard time concentrating
- Startle easily
- Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Tire easily or feel tired all the time
- Have headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
- Have a hard time swallowing
- Tremble or twitch
- Feel irritable or "on edge"
- Some people may experience physical symptoms such as (excessive sweating, lightheadedness, an upset stomach, feeing out of breath, etc.)
Many people who suffer with generalized anxiety disorder hold the irrational belief that worry stops bad things from happening, so they think giving up worry is risky. It’s a vicious cycle.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you have symptoms, a healthcare provider may first perform a physical examination to make sure the cause doesn’t stem from medical conditions.
The intensity and duration of symptoms are often the key to a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis. The degree to which a person’s life is impacted by worry is one important measurement. If symptoms disrupt daily life and are present on most days for at least six months, a medical professional will likely produce a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis.
Psychotherapy, medication, or both are used to treat the disorder.
One type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients different ways of thinking, behaving and reacting to situations that help them feel less anxious and worried. It has been well researched and is considered by many experts to be the gold standard for psychotherapy.
Another option is acceptance and commitment therapy, which uses mindfulness, goal setting and other strategies to lessen discomfort and anxiety.
Doctors will often prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to treat anxiety disorders.
Psychotherapy and medication are not an immediate fix for generalized anxiety disorder. It can take weeks before patients begin to feel the effects of treatment. Many people are prescribed several medications to find the one that works best for them.
One of the most important takeaways is that living with anxiety disorder can be a challenge and can drastically impact a person’s quality of life. However, with professional treatment people can gain the upper hand and reduce worry to manageable levels.
Through an Ochsner Connected Anywhere visit, you can see a licensed therapist virtually from the comfort of your own home.