It’s completely normal to have feelings of anxiety. You may worry about an upcoming date or a job interview. Anxiety is an issue when it gets out of control, getting in the way of your day-to-day functioning.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term mental health condition that causes you to feel anxious about all sorts of situations and issues, rather than a particular event. If you suffer from GAD, you probably feel anxious almost every day; you might not be able to remember the last time you were relaxed.
Studies have shown that people suffering from GAD are less able to regulate their response to negative emotions. Researchers claim this happens because the part of the prefrontal cortex that inhibits activity in the amygdala isn’t active in patients with GAD. Your amygdala is involved in your automatic fear response, as well as how you process memories and emotions. This means that GAD patients have a hyperactive amygdala, which can lead to unrealistic interpretations of the world.
With GAD, you may be able to get past one anxious thought, only for another one to appear about something else entirely. Your overactive amygdala may be causing you to perceive a situation as a threat when it isn’t. It’s an extremely overwhelming and exhausting condition.
GAD has both physical and psychological symptoms, which can be different for different people. Common symptoms of GAD include:
- Restlessness or feeling ‘on edge’
- Excessive, constant worry
- Viewing problems in an unrealistic, exaggerated way
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle tension
- Fatigue and exhaustion
A number of things can put you at risk for GAD or make it worse, including:
- A family history of anxiety
- Childhood abuse or trauma
- Recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations
- Excessive use of caffeine, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms
- Job stress
- Social media
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment Options
You don’t have to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder without hope! Read about GAD treatment options, so you can speak to a health professional about which one might work best for you. You can also consider combining options, in case a single treatment doesn’t provide the relief you need.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the main psychotherapeutic treatments for GAD. It has been shown to be more effective than both medication and traditional talk therapy. CBT is based on the notion that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. It involves noticing and changing unhealthy thought and behavior patterns. It typically includes:
You examine your problematic thinking patterns and learn new, healthier ways to think about difficult situations. Cognitive restructuring focuses on your negative predictions about the future and worries about being unable to cope.
You learn how to bring your attention to the present moment. This is crucial for GAD patients, as they tend to ruminate about the future.
You face your fears and test extreme predictions. This aspect of CBT involves imagining the worst-case scenario and, over time, not letting it trigger so much worry. Systematic exposure could also mean you do things your anxiety tells you not to do and see what happens.
You learn skills to manage stress, so you don’t become overwhelmed in stressful situations or in your obligations.
There are different types of medication that can help relieve the symptoms of GAD. These include:
These medications can treat both depression and anxiety, but because it can take weeks to notice an effect, a benzodiazepine may be prescribed first.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
These help treat the panic attacks many people with GAD experience.
- Klonopin® (clonazepam)
- Ativan® (lorazepam)
- Xanax® (alprazolam)
Antipsychotic and Anticonvulsant (Anti-Seizure) Medications
These are usually considered when traditional medication options don’t work.
You can also change your lifestyle in order to manage the symptoms of GAD. Effective solutions include:
Getting Restful Sleep
GAD can result in poor sleep and be made worse by it, so it’s important to avoid behavior that gets in the way of a good night’s sleep, such as:
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Using your laptop or smartphone close to bedtime
- Regularly staying up late
Eating a Healthy Diet
This means ensuring you get an adequate intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and avoid junk food, processed food, and refined sugar.
Physical activity—whether it’s community sports, cardio, or weight lifting—helps alleviate the symptoms of GAD, allowing you to feel calmer and more relaxed.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a revolutionary, non-invasive GAD treatment. It involves placing a magnetic coil on your head, which generates a painless electromagnetic wave, much like an MRI scan. These electromagnetic pulses are delivered to your brain, bringing the brain regions implicated in GAD back to a normal level of activity and functioning.
Research has shown that TMS is effective at treating GAD. It is especially useful when other treatment options have failed. Many of the patients at HPR Treatment Centers say TMS treatments offered them quick, significant, long-lasting relief like no other treatment.
You don’t have to live with GAD forever. It’s possible to manage and treat anxiety. By pursuing one—or a combination—of these evidence-based treatments, you can help restore calmness and order to your life!