What does Anxiety Look like?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD for short) is a mental disorder described by extreme, pervasive, and unrealistic worries about everyday things. While some anxiety can be a good thing, allowing a person to perform better at work or accomplish more at home, people who suffer from anxiety cope with the feelings of worry most of the time and in manners which are not productive. Often, this tension and exaggerated worries are related to nothing that can be pinpointed and cause the person to feel as though disaster is looming around every corner. Sometimes, a person who has GAD may feel anxiety at the mere thought of living through another day, as anxieties can affect a person’s ability to think, function, or sleep. Often, they cannot stop this endless cycle of worries even if they know the anxiety they are feeling is far greater than warranted by the situation. Generalized anxiety disorder often emerges gradually throughout the lifespan, though most people begin to experience the more severe symptoms between childhood and middle age.
When anxiety levels are mild, some people who have generalized anxiety disorder can function socially and remain gainfully employed or in school. Some may avoid certain situations that trigger anxiety, while others may face challenges performing the most unassuming daily activities when their anxiety levels are high. A diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder is given after a person worries extremely about a variety of subjects – money, health, family matters – for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment, which may include therapy, counseling, and medication. In addition, making lifestyle changes (such as reducing caffeine consumption), learning coping skills, and relaxation techniques can help manage some of the symptoms of GAD.
Statistics on Anxiety
Generalized anxiety disorder is a quite common issue for many people. It is so common, in fact, that GAD is the primary anxiety disorder seen by most doctors. GAD affects about 3.1% of the U.S. population (or 6.8 million adults) each year; women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Often beginning in the early 20’s, generalized anxiety disorder can impact children as well – over the span of childhood, about 20% of children will be impacted by GAD or panic disorder.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Generalized Anxiety Disorders?
While there is not a single cause for the development of GAD over a person’s lifespan, there are a number of factors that may interplay to develop the disorder. The most commonly cited causes for GAD may include the following:
Genetic: People who have a family history of anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for developing the disorder than those without a similar family history. The risk climbs if the individual has a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling with the disorder.
Physical: It’s been postulated that some anxiety disorders may stem from chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for regulating the fight or flight mechanism. An imbalance of these neurotransmitters may lead to the development of anxiety disorders.
Environmental: Having friends and family who somehow support avoidant coping mechanisms, inhibited temperament, life stresses, and familial discord are all factors that may contribute to the development of generalized anxiety disorder.
Psychological: Many people who have anxiety disorders also struggle with depression. It’s believed that anxiety and depression stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain their co-existence. Anxiety aggravates depression and vice versa, so it’s vital that people who struggle with anxiety disorders are treated for both conditions.
- Female gender
- Chronic health condition(s)
- Childhood trauma(s)
- Substance abuse
Learn More About the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder vary tremendously from person to person, based upon personal genetic makeup, temperament, life stresses, and ability to tolerate unpleasant emotions. Some of the most common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include the following:
- Failure to complete activities of daily living
- Frequent absences from work or school
- Avoiding situations that may trigger anxiety
- Inability to complete tasks in a timely manner
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Easily fatigued
- Sleep problems
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain or tightness
- Shortness of breath or difficulty catching one’s breath
- Sweaty palms
- Frequent urination
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Trembling and shaking
- Chills and/or hot flashes
- Muscle tension, aches, and pains without discernible source
- Feelings of restlessness
- Feelings of dread
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
- Feeling on edge
- Anticipation of the worst
- Difficulty maintaining concentration
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of going insane
- Sense of impending doom
- Mood swings
Understanding the Effects of Anxiety
The long-term effects of untreated anxiety disorders will vary according to duration of illness, severity of symptoms, and coping strategies. Some of the long-term effects of anxiety disorders may include:
- Inability to hold gainful employment
- Social isolation
- Strained interpersonal relationships
- Failure in school
- Substance use and abuse
- Chronic bowel or digestive conditions
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Anxiety and other Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people who struggle with generalized anxiety disorder also struggle with co-occurring mental disorders. The most common disorders that occur with generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Other anxiety disorders
- Substance use and abuse
- Bipolar disorder