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Anxiety is nothing more than a feeling of apprehension and uncertainty. Believe it or not some anxiety is normal and healthy. Chronic, and continuous worry, however, is not. Everyone experiences some anxiety even on a daily basis but people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) experience constant anxiety which often has no apparent cause. GAD may be mild and manageable, but, for some people, it is debilitating. It can also cause and/or aggravate additional health problems, both physical and psychological.

People with GAD often worry about the same problems everyone worries about - money, health, families, jobs, etc. The problem is, people with GAD worry excessively and constantly. People without GAD have the ability to put normal worries on hold and focus on daily activity. People with GAD are often distracted by their worries and find it difficult to think about anything else.

Many people with GAD also feel constant anxiety with no apparent cause. They wake up feeling anxious and can never pinpoint a direct cause. The anxiety never seems to disappear throughout the day.

"Unfortunately, most people with GAD assume that they are just a 'nervous person' and that nothing can be done. They do not usually seek treatment unless their anxiety is complicated by depression, panic attacks or alcoholism. With appropriate treatment, however, GAD sufferers can feel less anxious and function better." -- Deborah Cowley, MD, in Psychopharmacology

The cause of GAD has yet to be determined, and there is probably more than one possible cause. GAD appears to run in families, so there is probably a genetic factor. A major traumatic or stressful event may sometimes trigger GAD. Another theory is that the person with GAD has internal conflicts which have yet to be resolved. GAD may begin in childhood or later in life. Most likely, GAD has both physiological and psychological components.

Symptoms

GAD may cause many unpleasant symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Trembling, twitching
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating, hot flashes
  • Change in appetite
  • Frequent need to use bathroom
  • Startled easily
  • Lump in throat, difficulty swallowing
  • Sleeplessness
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue

Treatment

A person with excessive anxiety should seek treatment by first having a medical examination. An exam will rule out other possible causes of anxiety. Once good physical health is confirmed, the person should obtain a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders. Chronic anxiety may be a symptoms of other anxiety disorders besides GAD, so these should be ruled out before treatment begins. There might also be other psychological problems present, such as depression, and the treating mental health professional should be aware of all problems.

Treatment generally includes medication, therapy or a combination. No one treatment method or medication works best for everyone, so patient and doctor (and/or therapist) should seek to find the best treatment for the individual. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for many people with anxiety disorders. With CBT, the person with GAD will learn relaxation and coping skills. Psychodynamic or "talk" therapy may also be effective in helping the person resolve and/or cope with various issues and conflicts. Effective medications include antidepressants, benzodiazepines and Buspar. Self-help methods and support groups may also be helpful in addition to professional treatment.