Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental disorders, affecting up to 30% of adults at some point in their lives.
If your feelings of anxiety are related to several areas in your life — including your health, relationships, work, and finances — you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
GAD is characterized by the expectation of negative outcomes and excessive worrying that interferes with your daily activities and relationships.
To help you get a better understanding of how you’re feeling, and whether your feelings of anxiety could be a sign of GAD, we asked our experts at Washington Center for Women’s and Children’s Wellness to explain the causes, symptoms, and treatments available for GAD.
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms
To get diagnosed with generalized anxiety, you must have at least three of the symptoms described below, and have them persist over a period of six months:
These symptoms include:
- Feeling irritable or on edge
- Having a sense that a new negative event is about to happen
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Having a hard time falling asleep
- Waking up during the night
- Avoiding or delaying doing certain activities to avoid triggers
Some people may also experience somatic symptoms, which include:
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Numbness in hands and feet
- Increased heart rate
- Shaking hands
- Rapid breathing
Anxiety is a spectrum. Some may find it hard to make a presentation at work, while others may find it hard to leave their house to go grocery shopping.
The main cause of anxiety is difficult experiences either in childhood or adulthood. During periods of high stress, being hypervigilant and alert can help.
Unfortunately, once there’s no longer a threat, if the conflict remains unresolved, the defense mechanisms that helped cope with traumatic events can become maladaptive.
For example, many people with anxiety suffer in anticipation of an event that may never happen, simply because they had similar experiences in the past.
However, trauma isn’t the only cause of anxiety. Genetics and personality type may play a role. Also, some medications can change brain chemistry and cause anxiety, as can long-term use of alcohol and illegal drugs.
Alcohol floods the brain with dopamine, the pleasure hormone in the brain, causing a rush. But after the alcohol is removed from the system, dopamine levels dip below normal levels, causing anxiety. People suffering from anxiety are also more likely to use alcohol to feel the dopamine rush, causing a vicious cycle of ups and downs in their brain chemistry.
Illegal drugs that fall into the category of stimulants, such as cocaine, can also cause anxiety, even in people who aren’t at risk for it.
Additionally, legal stimulants, such as ADHD drugs, can increase your risk for anxiety if you’re already prone to developing it.
The treatment for anxiety depends on the root cause of the condition, whether it’s caused by a brain chemistry imbalance, substance abuse, or traumatic events.
The most common and effective treatments for anxiety include psychotherapy and medications.
There’s also evidence suggesting that practices that teach you to remain grounded in the moment, such as meditation and yoga, can also reduce excessive worry about the future. There are over 200 studies pointing to the positive effects of mindfulness on reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
If you suspect that you’re suffering from anxiety, contact us to schedule an appointment. Get a diagnosis and quick relief from your symptoms.