Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects about 6.8 million American adults and about twice as many women as men. There is evidence that GAD may be genetic. The condition is usually accompanied by another anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse.
Diagnostic Criteria for GAD
GAD is diagnosed when someone spends at least 6 months worrying excessively about a number of everyday problems. People with this disorder cannot stop worrying, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Their concerns are often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, trembling, irritability, and sweating.
People with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Often they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can include the following:
- Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)
Although people with GAD don’t characteristically avoid stressful situations, in some instances symptoms can become debilitating, making it difficult to carry out even the most ordinary daily activities.
It’s possible to develop GAD as a child or as an adult. It has similar symptoms as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they’re all different conditions.
Living with generalized anxiety disorder can be a long-term challenge. In many cases, it occurs along with other anxiety or mood disorders. In most cases, generalized anxiety disorder improves with medications or psychotherapy. Making lifestyle changes, learning coping skills and using relaxation techniques also can help.
Psychotherapy for GAD
Psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder should be oriented toward combatting the individual’s low-level, ever-present anxiety. Such anxiety is often accompanied by poor planning skills, high stress levels, and difficulty in relaxing. This last point is important because it the easiest one in which the therapist can play an especially effective teaching role.
Relaxation skills can be taught either alone or with the use of biofeedback. Education about relaxation and simple relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, are excellent places to begin therapy.
Stop the Worrying
Reducing stress and increasing overall coping skills may also be beneficial in helping the client. Many people who have GAD tend to have very busy lives. Helping the individual find a better balance in their lives between self-enrichment, family, significant other, and work may be important.
People who have GAD have lived with their anxiety for such a long time they may not recognize a life without constant worrying and activity. Helping the individual realize that life doesn’t have to boring just because one isn’t always worrying or doing things may also help.