ANXIETY: SYMPTOMS & TREATMENT OF GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)
by Robin L Goldstein, EdD Licensed Psychologist
Anxiety is probably the most common condition which troubles people. We all experience it at some time, in fact it would be a sign of a problem if nothing ever made us anxious. There are many forms of anxiety and many ways to treat them. Anxiety interferes greatly with quality of life. It is a background noise which doesn’t go away. Proper assessment and treatment can bring this dragon under control.
SYMPTOMS OF GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)
A common description of the discomfort this problem causes is, “I feel overwhelmed.” Often the person with this description realizes that their burdens are nothing more than the ordinary stress of every day life but they cannot escape the sense that it is too much to handle; overwhelming, unbearable. Some people are reluctant to complain about the problem because their life is going well overall, often with many advantages and benefits but they cannot escape the sense that something is wrong and they don’t feel able to cope. Another typical sign is awakening with a sense of dread or foreboding, a “sense of doom” even though nothing is seriously wrong.
Mood disorders can be tricky to recognize. Often a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder will have periods of feeling fine, usually when they are distracted. When this anxiety disorder is not severe symptoms will seem to disappear at times such as in a pleasant social activity, watching a movie, talking to a friend. This leads people to think that it isn’t too big of a problem and they should just try to live with it. The key is when the symptoms keep coming back, when the relief is only temporary. In more severe cases the anxiety is almost always present and leads to difficulty in many areas of life: trouble concentrating, irritability, trouble sleeping and chronic restlessness or tension. We describe these people as “stressed out” quick to take offense, over-reacting to problems, tired and unwilling to have fun.
Many people develop physical symptoms as part of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Most common are headaches and upset stomachs. If you are prone to headaches or gastrointestinal difficulties these are likely to be worsened by the anxiety. Increased muscle tension is particularly common with anxiety disorders so back ache, neck pain, jaw pain, etc. can all be caused or aggravated by anxiety.
Anxiety disorders put people at risk of substance abuse. Both alcohol and marijuana can relax people and make it seem as though their anxiety is diminished. Chronic substance use of almost any kind actually intensifies anxiety causing it to worsen over time. This can lead to a cycle of treating anxiety with drugs and/or alcohol, feeling a short term improvement that, over time, aggravates the underlying the anxiety.
TREATMENT FOR GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)
GAD is a highly treatable disorder. Few things are as satisfying to a psychologist as working with someone who has lived with anxiety their whole life and who manages to overcome this debilitating condition. Several types of psychotherapy are effective for GAD, most prominently Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT involves defining distorted thinking patterns and relearning effective coping skills. This is an active approach that requires home work of the person with the anxiety. Several classes of medications can be very effective for GAD. SSRI anti-depressants such as Prozac, Celexa or Effexor can bring symptoms of anxiety under control. These drugs are not addictive and do not merely “mask the problem.” They work by allowing the brain to function more rationally and not over-react to anxiety producing stimuli. Wellbutrin, a non SSRI anti-depressants is also prescribed successfully for anxiety. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium and Klonapin are good for short term use or break through symptoms but these drugs can be habit forming and need to be prescribed with care. They can also aggravate the depression that often accompanies anxiety disorders. Meditation, deep relaxation, yoga and exercise are all techniques that help in the reduction of anxiety. If they are not sufficient by themselves psychotherapy and/or medication should be added. The important thing is to get help. Do not live with this life diminishing disorder. Excellent, effective treatment is available.
I urge you to get help so you can get better, please contact me.