Experiencing some nervousness or worry is perfectly normal and is part of the body’s response to life’s many stressors. Most healthy individuals experience worry in response to stressful events around important issues such as family, work, and the environment. However, individuals struggling with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) experience anxious thoughts and negative feelings persistently, even in the absence of stressful events. GAD may seem like an incurable condition, but at Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson & Associates in Park City, UT, we have the necessary tools and expertise to alleviate the symptoms of GAD today.
What Is General Anxiety Disorder and How is it Diagnosed?
Feeling anxious from time to time is absolutely normal and the sign of a healthy, working nervous system for someone whose life is fast-paced, high-pressure, or otherwise stressful. However, experiencing excessive, ongoing panic, apprehension, or nervousness that feels uncontrollable may be a sign of GAD. It is important to seek the health of a mental health professional if nervousness or worry is interrupting your daily activities.
GAD is a mental health condition that can develop in both children and adults with symptoms similar to Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental health conditions. However, despite the overlap in symptomatology, GAD is a unique condition that poses long-term challenges for those who live with it. It is common for GAD to occur comorbidly along with mood disorders, such as depression, neurological conditions such as ADHD and autism, as well as other mental health conditions.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of GAD?
In order to be diagnosed with GAD, an individual must report experiencing excessive worry for a duration of at least 6 months. Additional symptoms of GAD include:
- Persistent worrying that is disproportionate to the events or stressors causing worry
- Devising solutions to all possible worst-case scenarios
- Requiring constant external validation
- Perceiving all situations and events, including those that are safe, as threatening
- Choice paralysis/fear of making the wrong decision
- Feeling restless, inability to relax
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty handling uncertainty or dealing with change
- Insomnia or irregular sleep
- Muscle tension
- Muscle aches
- Excessive sweating
- Stomach issues such as IBS or frequent diarrhea
In kids and teens, symptoms of GAD can show up in more unassuming ways, such as feeling overly anxious about fitting in with their peers, spending excessive time ensuring their homework is “perfect”, worrying about catastrophic events, or avoiding school or social situations. Perfectionism is another tell-tale sign of GAD in youths. If you are concerned that your child or teen may be struggling with GAD, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson is educated in child and adolescent psychiatry and would be happy to provide your teen or child with a youth psychiatric assessment.
What Causes GAD?
There are many factors that may contribute to the development of GAD, including genetics, psychological factors (such as differences in brain chemistry), and psychosocial factors (such as upbringing and personality). It is possible for people with GAD to have a history of traumatic or negative childhood experiences, chronic medical illnesses, or other significant life changes. Having recently experienced traumatic or negative events can also contribute to the development of GAD. Typically, women are diagnosed with GAD with somewhat greater frequency than men.
Is It Possible to Treat General Anxiety Disorder?
Receiving treatment for GAD can be the difference between surviving and thriving. Living with GAD is not only exhausting as it manifests in both mental and physical symptoms, but it can also rob you of life’s many joyful experiences, such as fulfilling relationships and employment. Thankfully, there are many treatment options available to alleviate symptoms of this disorder. Treatment for GAD is designed to address the severity of a patient’s symptoms; for some individuals, simple habit adjustments can effectively alleviate symptoms. Forever, more intense interventions may be necessary.
For patients whose feelings of worry or apprehension are on the mild to moderate side, mind-body techniques can be excellent interventions to calm the nervous system and rebuild positive neural pathways. Research has found practicing Kundalini yoga to be a moderately potent intervention for GAD; studies demonstrated that practicing this form of yoga regularly effectively reduces the frequency and intensity of anxious thoughts in adults with GAD.
While the psychology of the past focused on treating mental health conditions through the mind alone, modern approaches to mental health and awareness are more holistic, acknowledging that trauma and negative feelings are stored in the body. By encouraging patients to get back into their bodies, yoga and other forms of exercise can effectively calm the vagus nerve and offer clarity and peace of mind to those struggling with GAD.
Meditation and Mindfulness Techniques
Along with yoga, meditation and mindfulness techniques are also effective mind-body approaches to treating GAD. When applied properly, meditation can change your relationship to your thoughts and help you to stay in the present moment. Much of the worry that comes from GAD stems from concerns about the future; by changing your relationship to your thoughts and shifting into a present mindset, meditation can help to significantly reduce the frequency of worrying thoughts. For those with mild to moderate symptoms of GAD, meditation can be an effective solution for finding focus, calm, and balance.
Many people underestimate the role that natural supplements can play in treating GAD and other mental health conditions. Especially when treating mild to moderate symptoms, natural supplements can give you the extra boost of support you need to manage GAD. Natural supplements are best when used in conjunction with other treatment solutions, such as therapy and mind-body practices. Some natural supplements we recommend for treating GAD include:
Studies have shown that L-theanine, a non-dietary amino acid that naturally occurs in green and black teas, can reduce symptoms of GAD. Its effects are relaxing and help to prevent the brain from producing anxious responses to stressful stimuli.
Previously known as vitamin B8, inositol is a pseudo-vitamin that has been demonstrated to effectively reduce the symptoms of panic disorders, OCD, and other anxiety disorders.
This tropical plant produces an active ingredient that has the capacity to affect mood receptors. This ingredient, called “kavain”, is known for delivering feelings of relaxation and even euphoria to those who ingest it. This herbal remedy is ideal for treating those suffering from GAD.
Therapy is one of the most effective interventions for GAD and it is recommended for any level of symptom severity. Talk therapy, psychological counseling, or psychotherapy can help you to work through your worries by talking openly with a trained professional. To reduce symptoms of GAD, we recommend developing skills for managing symptoms through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Widely regarded as the most effective form of psychotherapy, CBT focuses on teaching patients specific skills, thereby placing the management of your symptoms into your hands. Armed with the necessary skills required for managing the symptoms of GAD, you’ll be able to gradually return to activities you may have previously avoided due to your condition. With each success, your confidence will increase and you’ll be able to manage your symptoms with increasingly greater ease.
When stronger intervention is needed, prescription medication may be recommended as an appropriate treatment for GAD. Some medications we may prescribe include antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), and tricyclic antidepressants. Benzodiazepines can also be prescribed for those who experience acute anxiety.
Anti-anxiety medications are habit-forming and therefore are only prescribed when other treatments are not working. Generally, medications are prescribed on a short-term or as-needed basis in order to support other therapeutic measures for managing symptoms of GAD. We do not recommend antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications as the first line of defense, as long-lasting treatments need to target the root causes of GAD. This is why we recommend a full-body, holistic approach to tackle the symptoms of GAD.
Get Your Life Back on Track
If you’re experiencing persistent anxious thoughts and overwhelming feelings of worry, this can become disruptive to your daily activities. GAD is a serious condition that, when left untreated, can rob you of having a full and satisfying experience of life. However, help is only a phone call away. If you are ready to seek help in treating your GAD or other mental health conditions, contact Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson & Associates in Park City, UT today.